The global death toll from COVID-19 could double to 20 lakh before a successful vaccine is widely used and could be even higher without concerted action to curb the pandemic, an official at the World Health Organization (WHO) said on September 25.
"Unless we do it all, (2 million deaths) ... is not only imaginable, but sadly very likely," Mike Ryan, head of the U.N. agency's emergencies program, told a briefing on Friday.
The number of deaths about nine months since the novel coronavirus was discovered in China is nearing 10 lakh.
"We are not out of the woods anywhere, we are not out of the woods in Africa," Ryan said.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
He said young people should not be blamed for a recent increase in infections despite growing concerns that they are driving its spread after restrictions and lockdowns were eased around the world.
"I really hope we don't get into finger wagging: it's all because of the youth," said Ryan. "The last thing a young person needs is an old person pontificating and wagging the finger."
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Rather, indoor gatherings of people of all ages were driving the epidemic, he said.
The WHO is continuing talks with China about its possible involvement in the COVAX financing scheme designed to guarantee fast and equitable access globally to COVID-19 vaccines, a week after the deadline for committing passed.
"We're in discussions with China about the role they may play as we go forward," said Bruce Aylward, WHO senior adviser and head of the ACT-Accelerator program to back vaccines, treatments and diagnostics against COVID-19.
He confirmed that Taiwan has signed up to the scheme, even though it is not a WHO member, bringing the total to 159 participants. Some 34 are still deciding.
Talks with China also include discussion of the world's second-largest economy potentially supplying vaccines to the scheme, he said.
The U.N. agency published on Friday draft criteria for the assessment of emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines to help guide drugmakers as vaccine trials reach advanced stages, said WHO assistant director-general, Mariangela Simao.
The document will be available for public comment until Oct. 8, she said.
Earlier on Friday, a Chinese health official said the WHO had given its support for the country to start administering experimental coronavirus vaccines to people even while clinical trials were still underway.
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