Young people might have to wait until 2022 for Covid-19 vaccine: WHO

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan reiterated that speedy, mass shots were unlikely.
WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan reiterated that speedy, mass shots were unlikely.PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA/ZURICH - The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday (Oct 14) said healthy young people might have to wait until 2022 to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus, as it warned against complacency in the disease death rate.

Despite the global push for a Covid-19 vaccine, with dozens in clinical trials and hopes for initial inoculations this year, WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan reiterated that speedy, mass shots were unlikely, Reuters reported.

Two candidates, from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca's US trial, are paused on safety concerns, while manufacturing billions of doses of an eventual successful vaccine will be a colossal challenge demanding hard decisions about who gets inoculated first.

"People tend to think that on the first of January or the first of April, I'm going to get the vaccine, and then things will be back to normal," Dr Swaminathan said during a WHO social media event.

"It's not going to work like that."

She added that she hoped the world would have have at least one safe and effective vaccine by 2021, but it would be available only in "limited quantities".

"Most people agree, it's starting with healthcare workers and front-line workers, but even there, you need to define which of them are at highest risk, and then the elderly, and so on," Dr Swaminathan said.

"There will be a lot of guidance coming out, but I think an average person, a healthy young person, might have to wait until 2022 to get a vaccine."

The WHO has said letting infection spread in hopes of achieving "herd immunity" is unethical and would cause unnecessary deaths.

It urges hand-washing, social distancing, masks and, when unavoidable, limited and targeted restrictions on movements, to control disease spread.

"People talk about herd immunity. We should only talk about it in the context of a vaccine," Reuters quoted Dr Swaminathan as saying.

"You need to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of people... to really break transmission."

New cases are hitting 100,000 daily in Europe. Nearly 20,000 infections were reported in Britain, while Italy, Switzerland and Russia were among nations with record case numbers.

While deaths globally have fallen to around 5,000 per day from April's peak exceeding 7,500, Dr Swaminathan said caseloads were rising in intensive care units, Reuters reported.

"Mortality increases always lag behind increasing cases by a couple of weeks," Dr Swaminathan said.

"We shouldn't be complacent that death rates are coming down."

More than 38 million people have been reported infected globally and 1.1 million have died.