GENEVA: Researchers are making "good progress" in developing vaccines against COVID-19, with a handful in late-stage trials, but their first use cannot be expected until early 2021, a World Health Organization (WHO) expert said on Wednesday (Jul 22).
WHO is working to ensure fair vaccine distribution, but in the meantime it is key to suppress the virus' spread, said Dr Mike Ryan, head of WHO's emergencies programme, as daily new cases around the globe are at near-record levels.
"We're making good progress," Dr Ryan said, noting that several vaccines were now in phase 3 trials and none had failed so far, in terms of safety or ability to generate an immune response.
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"Realistically it is going to be the first part of next year before we start seeing people getting vaccinated," he told a public event on social media.
Aubree Gordon, associate professor of epidemiology at University of Michigan School of Public Health, said early trial results are showing promise.
“The results of Phase 1 and/or Phase 2 trials, have been very promising. We should definitely believe these results, while acknowledging that they do not prove the vaccine is effective," she said.
"These early phase trials address safety and whether the vaccine elicits a good immune response. The good news is that we have several vaccines that have or are moving forward into phase 3 trials - the phase needed to prove it works for licensing.”
Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, said it is "hard to draw any firm conclusions" from the early trial results and noted that the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine "has animal data".
"I'm confident we'll get a COVID-19 vaccine, just not sure which candidates will make it into people's arms,” he added.
But while several potential vaccines are showing promise "because they're built off other successful efforts", global competition instead of collaboration is "harming", said Matthew Kavanagh, assistant professor of global health and visiting professor of Law at Georgetown University.
"In this pandemic, we need to quickly realise there are better ways of doing this," he added.
The Infectious Diseases Society of America noted that phase 3 trials had begun within seven months of the virus' genetic sequencing.
"This is what can happen when public, academic and private entities come together with a single focus. When united, we can accomplish so much more."
VACCINE "FOR EVERYBODY"
WHO is working to expand access to potential vaccines and to help scale-up production capacity, Dr Ryan said.
"And we need to be fair about this, because this is a global good. Vaccines for this pandemic are not for the wealthy, they are not for the poor, they are for everybody," he said.
The US government will pay US$1.95 billion to buy 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech if it proves safe and effective, the companies said.
Dr Ryan also cautioned schools to be careful about reopening until community transmission of COVID-19 is under control. Debate in the United States over restarting education has intensified, even as the pandemic flares up in dozens of states.
"We have to do everything possible to bring our children back to school, and the most effective thing we can do is to stop the disease in our community," he said. "Because if you control the disease in the community, you can open the schools."