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Don’t wait for vaccine, improve virus response, WHO tells governments

Aug 19. 2020
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By Jovic Yee
Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN

MANILA, Philippines — The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday reminded governments that instead of waiting and hoping for a vaccine against the new coronavirus to be available soon, they should continue to improve their response to contain spread of the COVID-19 contagion.

Dr. Takeshi Kasai, WHO Western Pacific director, said that while the speed of vaccine development did provide optimism, it must be understood that even if a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 becomes available, “production capacity will not really meet the demand [of] the entire world.”

Hence, what’s important now is to “continue to improve our response and not just hope for the vaccine,” he said.

Eight candidate vaccines

Currently, eight candidate vaccines are about to start or have already started the third phase of their clinical trials, where the vaccine’s safety and efficacy is tested on thousands of patients.

These vaccines are being developed by Moderna in partnership with the United States’ National Institutes of Health; BioNtech, Pfizer and Fosun Pharma; AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford; CanSino Biologics; Wuhan Institute of Biological Products Co. Ltd.; Sinovac Biotech; Sinopharm; and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

Earlier, Russia approved for emergency use of its health workers the “Sputnik V” vaccine, even if it had yet to start its phase three clinical trials.

A day before the announcement of the vaccine’s approval, President Duterte said Russian President Vladimir Putin committed to provide for free the Russian COVID-19 vaccine.

Last week, Malacañang said the Philippines aimed to start its parallel clinical trials with Russia in October. Mr. Duterte has repeatedly banked on the availability of COVID-19 vaccine to curb coronavirus infections in the country, which now has the most number of cases in the 22-member Western Pacific region. While the WHO welcomes all advances in the research and development of a COVID-19 vaccine, WHO Western Pacific COVID-19 incident manager Dr. Socorro Escalante, the world body’s COVID-19 incident manager for the Western Pacific, cautioned that “all candidate vaccines that are going into production should adhere to the standards of safety and efficacy.”

“[The] WHO at the global level continues to coordinate and contact the scientists and experts, as well as the national regulatory authorities in Russia, and we hope to get their response in terms of the evidence of these new vaccines,” Escalante said.

Virus ‘relatively stable’

Meanwhile, Kasai said that while mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the severe respiratory disease, had been observed, the virus had remained “relatively stable.”

“The mutations have been observed in January and received attention because laboratory data shows that potentially that can increase transmission. The database observing the frequency of this substitute (sequence D614G) has been increasingly coming from all parts of the world. But so far, in the real life, we haven’t seen such evidence,” he said.

He assured the public that the WHO would continue to monitor this development, but stressed that so far the mutation of the virus “doesn’t require any changes of our recommendations, including the vaccine.”

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