Coronavirus: WHO press conference

Vaccine won't be a silver bullet, experts warn

A safe and effective pandemic vaccine is a global public good that countries worldwide should have access to. PHOTO: REUTERS

A vaccine will not be a silver bullet to end the Covid-19 pandemic and the world still needs to improve its response to fight the virus.

Dr Takeshi Kasai, the World Health Organisation's (WHO) regional director for the Western Pacific, said at a virtual press conference yesterday that he is cautiously optimistic about a Covid-19 vaccine - optimistic because he is very impressed by the speed of vaccine development, and cautious because even if a safe and effective vaccine is found, production capacity is unlikely to meet global demand.

One country that has been actively involved in vaccine research and development is China, which has seven vaccine candidates advancing into phase two and phase three of clinical trials.

Yet, despite the accelerated speed of research and development, a panel of three WHO experts stressed the need to ensure the safety and efficacy of all vaccine candidates.

The international body has been "working with a number of research and development institutes across the world, and guiding the conduct and providing protocol for vaccine clinical trials".

In other countries, such as Japan, research, development and manufacturing of vaccines are also under way. One candidate is now in stage two of clinical trials and four other candidates are in the stages of pre-clinical studies, WHO said.

In terms of manufacturing, at least two companies in Japan are already discussing the transfer of technology to manufacture the vaccines once they are approved, which would help allow for quicker scaling up of vaccine production.

A safe and effective pandemic vaccine is a global public good that countries worldwide should have access to, the panel said at a question-and-answer segment during the press conference.

The organisation called for rapid, fair and equitable access to any such vaccines globally.

"We hope that the work that is ongoing in Japan and other countries in the region on research and development, and manufacturing of vaccines will benefit equally the other countries in the Western Pacific," the panel said.

But ensuring fair and equitable vaccine distribution globally will not be easy, the WHO said.

It noted, however, that the vaccine will not belong to a single country, but instead to all countries, as no country is safe unless all countries are protected.

Initiatives will also be established to expedite the development and access for a safe and effective vaccine, and the WHO is working with countries around the world on this.

When asked for the WHO's opinion on the safety and effectiveness of Russia's vaccine, which is ready to go into production, with the Philippines saying it is ready to receive it, the panel said the organisation is in the process of coordinating and contacting the scientists and experts, as well as the Russian regulatory authorities, to get evidence for this new vaccine.

The first batch of Sputnik V - named in homage to the world's first satellite, launched by the Soviet Union in 1957 - was developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow in coordination with the Russian Defence Ministry.

Russia has said industrial production is expected from next month and it plans to manufacture five million doses per month by December or next January.

But a survey of 3,040 doctors and health specialists in Russia found the majority would not feel comfortable being injected with the new Covid-19 vaccine due to the lack of sufficient data about it and its super-fast approval.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2020, with the headline Vaccine won't be a silver bullet, experts warn. Subscribe