Singapore

WHO cautiously optimistic about Covid-19 vaccine

A vaccine will not be a silver bullet to end the Covid-19 pandemic and the world still needs to improve its response to fight the virus.

Dr Takeshi Kasai, the World Health Organisation (WHO) regional director for the Western Pacific, said at a virtual press conference yesterday that he is cautiously optimistic about a vaccine.

He is optimistic because he is very impressed by the speed of vaccine development and cautious because even if a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine is found, production capacity is unlikely to meet global demand.

One country that has been actively involved in vaccine research and development is China, which has seven vaccine candidates advancing into phase two and phase three of clinical trials.

Yet despite the accelerated speed of research and development, the panel of three WHO experts stressed the need to ensure the safety and efficacy of all vaccine candidates.

The international body has been "working with a number of research and development institutes across the world, and guiding the conduct and providing protocol for vaccine clinical trials".

In Japan, research, development and manufacturing of vaccines is also under way. One candidate is now in stage two of clinical trials and four other candidates are in the stages of preclinical studies, WHO said.

In terms of manufacturing, at least two companies in Japan are already discussing the transfer of technology to manufacture the vaccines once they are approved, which would help allow for quicker scaling up of vaccine production.

A safe and effective vaccine is a public good that countries worldwide should have access to, the panel said at a Q&A segment during the press conference.

"We hope that the work that is ongoing in Japan and other countries in the region on research and development, and manufacturing of vaccines will benefit equally the other countries in the Western Pacific," the panel said.

But ensuring a fair and equitable vaccine distribution globally will not be easy, WHO said, noting, however, that the vaccine will not belong to a single country, and instead to all countries, as no country is safe unless all countries are protected.

When asked for the WHO's opinion on the safety and effectiveness of Russia's vaccine, the panel said the organisation is in the process of coordinating and contacting the scientists and experts, as well as the Russian regulatory authorities, to get the evidence for this new vaccine.

Russia has said production is expected from next month and that it plans to manufacture 5 million doses a month by December or January. But a survey of 3,040 doctors and health specialists in Russia found the majority would not feel comfortable being injected with the new vaccine due to the lack of sufficient data about it and its super-fast approval.

coronavirus