The chief scientist of the World Health Organization (WHO), Soumya Swaminathan, on January 12, 2020 in Geneva.
FABRIC COFFRINI | AFP via Getty Images
Healthy young people may not get the coronavirus vaccine until 2022 as health officials are initially focused on immunizing the elderly and other vulnerable groups, World Health Organization top officials said on Wednesday.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist, said health workers, frontline workers and the elderly are likely to get a vaccine first, although WHO and its advisory groups are still working out details on prioritization. And of course, a vaccine against the virus has yet to be rated as safe and effective by the WHO, the European Union or the United States.
“People tend to think that I’ll get the vaccine on January 1st or April 1st, and then things will go back to normal,” Swaminathan said. “It won’t work that way.”
She added that hopefully the world will have at least one safe and effective vaccine by 2021, but it will be available in “limited quantities”. The WHO Strategic Advisory Group on Immunization (SAGE) was recently published Guidelines for countries, how to prioritize different groups of people.
More than 10 coronavirus vaccines around the world are in late-stage clinical trials, Swaminathan said. As different vaccines may be released for distribution, SAGE will publish guidance on which populations each vaccine is best suited to and how it can be logistically distributed.
“Most people agree that it starts with health workers and the front lines, but even then you have to define which of them are most at risk, and then the elderly and so on,” Swaminathan said. “There will be a lot of guidance, but I think the average person, a healthy young person, may have to wait until 2022 to get a vaccine.”
Like the WHO, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration are preparing to prioritize specific risk communities for the distribution of the scarce doses. But the US timeline will likely look very different from the WHO’s.
The US has independently received hundreds of millions of doses from six companies with potential vaccines in development. Senior U.S. health officials said the U.S. could have enough doses to vaccinate every American by spring 2021, with limited distribution for prioritized groups possibly starting this year.
Senior WHO officials have warned nations against securing vaccine doses for their own citizens, as the US and China have done in what WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has termed “vaccine nationalism”.
In contrast, the WHO set up the so-called COVAX program to ensure fair access to the supply of vaccine doses for the whole world. More than 170 countries including China and the UK, have invested in the systemthat spreads the risks and potential benefits of vaccine development among its members.
“We need to make sure that we vaccinate the most vulnerable people in each country before we vaccinate all of them in some countries,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, Head of the Department of Emerging Diseases and Zoonosis, WHO, on Wednesday.
“Part of that comes down not only to government commitments, but also to the understanding of individuals who say, ‘I’m a younger person. I don’t have any underlying conditions. I may have to wait for my grandparents to get one Vaccine, “she added.
But of course, any vaccine distribution plans depend on getting you a vaccine first that is both safe and effective. WHO comments come days later Johnson & Johnson announced a Pause for safety reasons in the late stage of the vaccination attempt. And AstraZenecas The late-stage trial in the US continues to be on hold after being canceled last month.
Such pauses in clinical trials are typical, health officials say, and indicate that regulators are taking the right safety precautions when developing vaccines. Though both hiccups are reminiscent of the difficult task of vaccine development.
Van Kerkhove emphasized that even without a vaccine, the world has tools to stop the spread of the coronavirus now.
“We currently have tools that can prevent amplification events,” she said, adding that wearing a mask, avoiding the crowds, and frequent hand washing can slow the spread. “We can be one step ahead of the virus and in many countries they have controlled transmission.”