SINGAPORE – The World Health Organization’s chief scientist told CNBC that the world should remain vigilant for the next six months while the coronovirus vaccine is rolled out because it will take the most time.
Dr. Saumya Swaminathan said on Wednesday, “We are going to start the end, we can see the lights at the end of the tunnel.” “However, there is still a tunnel we have to go through, and the next few months are going to be very important.”
According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, confirmed cases of Kovid-19 continue to grow at an alarming pace, with global infections above 78 million.
The vaccine has been approved by Pfizer-BioNTech for emergency use in countries including the UK, US and Canada, while the US has also approved Modern.
Swaminathan said the vaccines would initially protect a very small group of people who are the weakest and most at risk and many months would pass before the rest of the population was covered.
“This is going to happen by the end of 2021, until we start seeing some level of population level in some countries,” CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” reported on Wednesday.
“We have to keep our guard up, we have to do everything we know that reduces transmission and increases the chances of people getting sick,” she said. This includes public health measures and personal behavior change.
“While we can definitely look forward to the end of next year – for a better picture, the next few months, I think, are going to be tough,” she said.
New tension in Britain
Separately, Swaminathan recently discussed a new version of the virus that emerged in the United Kingdom, and has been identified in countries including Australia, Denmark and Italy.
She stated that this is unusual because it contains a large number of mutations and has isolated itself from the average strain.
“What is of concern is that it has eight mutations in the spike protein region,” he said. The spike protein of the virus lags at receptors found on the surface of human cells in the respiratory tract or the ACE2 receptor in the case of Kovid-19. Mutations have been detected in the portion of proteins that bind receptors in the respiratory tract.
“Perhaps this is why this virus has an advantage in infecting people; it seems to transmit more efficiently; it tends to infect children who have less of these receptors,” he said .
People wear protective face masks while shopping at the Union Square Greenmarket on December 04, 2020 in New York City.
Noam Gully | Getty Image Entertainment | Getty Images
But she noted that the new version “does not appear to increase clinical severity or make things worse” for those who are infected with it.
The WHO said in a note that the strain “can spread more easily,” but it “does not currently have enough information” to determine whether mutations would alter disease severity, antibody response, or vaccine efficacy.
Swaminathan said that there is no reason to believe that current vaccines will not cover it at the moment. This is because vaccines produce a “widespread immune response” that is likely to be effective against new stressors.
Nevertheless, if vaccines need to be twisted, this can be done “easily”. “If there is a need, it can be done,” he said. “But at the moment, I think most people believe that the current generation of vaccines should do just fine.”