Coronavirus 'may never go away', efficacy and safety of vaccines remains uncertain: WHO

Although researchers are tirelessly working to develop a vaccine against the disease, there is no guarantee if they can eliminate the novel coronavirus


                            Coronavirus 'may never go away', efficacy and safety of vaccines remains uncertain: WHO
(Getty Images)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has a dire message: the new coronavirus may be here to stay for long periods.

The novel coronavirus may settle down like viruses such as HIV, according to Mike Ryan, the Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme. "It is important to put this on the table -- this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away," he said during a press briefing.

HIV has not gone away and yet have managed to come to terms with it, he said. Over the years, scientists have found therapies and prevention methods to tackle it. 

He, however, added that he was not comparing the two diseases. "But it is important to be realistic. I do not think anyone can predict when, or if this disease will disappear," he added.

WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove also said: "We need to get into the mindset that it is going to take some time to come out of this pandemic."

Vaccines may help control but not eliminate disease

There is hope. Researchers are tirelessly working to develop a vaccine against the disease. According to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 11 potential coronavirus vaccines have already entered clinical trials. And 146 others are at the various stages of early development.

"If we do find a highly effective vaccine and we can distribute it to everyone in the world. We may have a shot at eliminating this virus," Ryan said.

According to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 11 potential coronavirus vaccines have already entered clinical trials. (Getty Images)

For that, a vaccine has to fulfill two criteria: it has to be highly effective, and it has to be made available to everyone.

Even if a vaccine meets the two criteria, it could take years before we have the disease under control. According to another WHO expert, this effort could take at least five years.

“Let us say we have a vaccine, and we are able to cover the world’s entire population, which may take, I do not know, three years, four years,” Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at WHO,  said during a Financial Times panel discussion. “So I would say in a four- to a five-year timeframe we could be looking at controlling this," she added.

Though vaccines are our best shot at getting out of the crisis, there are still a lot of uncertainties, Swaminathan warned. Some of them include questions about efficacy and safety. What is more, an effective vaccine can stop working if the virus changes or mutations, she added.

Another expert, who was a part of the meet, agreed. Peter Piot, professor of global health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that controlling the virus depended on an effective vaccine. But eliminating it demands a lot more than just vaccines, he said, adding that we have only managed to eradicate smallpox, so far. 

Still, it is possible to control the virus, with effort, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed during the press briefing. "The trajectory is in our hands, and it's everybody's business, and we should all contribute to stopping this pandemic," he said.

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