The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday said it was “cautiously optimistic” about encouraging news on the development of vaccines for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), particularly those from two US-based companies.
This as the United Kingdom has placed an order of 5 million doses for the vaccine being tested by US-based Moderna.
WHO said it was still “extremely concerned” over Covid-19 surging cases in Europe and the Americas where health workers and systems are being pushed to the “breaking point.”
“This is not the time for complacency,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus in a news conference from the organization’s headquarters in Geneva for the first time in two weeks since he self-quarantined after making contact with a person who tested positive for Covid-19.
“While we continue to receive encouraging news about Covid-19 vaccines and remain cautiously optimistic about the potential for new tools to start to arrive in the coming months, right now, we are extremely concerned by the surge in cases we’re seeing in some countries.
“Particularly in Europe and the Americas, health workers and health systems are being pushed to the breaking point,” cautioned Tedros, who said he had not tested himself for the virus during his quarantine.
Tedros spoke at a twice-weekly WHO webinar after US drug company Moderna announced on Monday the vaccine it developed has an efficacy rate of 94.5 percent.
Last week, US drugmaker Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech announced their coronavirus vaccine candidate was more than 90-percent effective, although there were concerns about its storage.
“We should have realistic hope, but we are not there yet,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO’s executive director of emergencies.
WHO chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan added that it was “very encouraging” to see that the Pfizer and Moderna “seem to be achieving high efficacy.”
She cautioned, however, “there are many, many questions still remaining, about the duration of protection, the impact on severe disease, impact on different subpopulations, especially the elderly, as well as the adverse events beyond a certain period of time.”
Swaminathan said WHO looked forward to getting more results in the coming weeks from the other vaccine trials currently in progress.
Dr. Kate O’Brien, WHO’s head of immunization, vaccines, and biologicals, said information from Moderna that its vaccine might need refrigeration at minus 20 C “is welcome news as well”.
Pfizer had said its vaccine would have to be stored at minus 75 degrees Celsius, making it very difficult to stock.
UK ORDERS MODERNA VACCINES
This early, however, the UK placed its hopes on the vaccine being tested by Moderna as it has secured five million doses for such.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the deal the UK government secured with Moderna was “excellent news,” and once it is proved safe, vaccinations can begin in spring next year.
“Great advances of medical science are coming to the rescue,” Hancock said at a Downing Street news conference. While there is much uncertainty, we can see the candle of hope and we must do all we can to nurture its flame. But we’re not there yet; until the science can make us safe we must remain vigilant and keep following the rules that we know can keep this virus under control,” he added. SOVEREIGNPH WITH ANADOLU