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It could take two-and-a-half years for a Covid-19 vaccine to be widely available - WHO envoy

The WHO Special Envoy on Covid-19 Dr David Nabarro said that “safety is paramount” and “you can’t rush” a vaccine.

Test tubes to be used for blood samples sitting on a table at a coronavirus antibody testing programme.
Test tubes to be used for blood samples sitting on a table at a coronavirus antibody testing programme.
Image: Simon Dawson via PA Images

THE WORLD HEALTH Organisation’s Special Envoy on Covid-19 Dr David Nabarro has said that it could be two and a half years until a Covid-19 vaccine becomes widely available. 

When asked how far away we were from a vaccine on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today, Nabarro said “I wish I could answer that question.”

There are a number of vaccines in advanced trial stages – with several vaccines in China and the UK shown to trigger antibodies that fight against Covid-19.

There are still trial stages for these vaccines to go through before they are deemed safe for mass use on humans. Nabarro said: “I think that a proven vaccine is still going to take us some months and we won’t have one until next year.”

But then the real issue is how do you build up the manufacturing capacity so that everyone in the world can have it, and for that I think it’s two-and-a-half years.

Explaining how complicated a process developing a vaccine is, Nabarro said:

“A vaccine is not a guarantee, you can develop a product that you hope will make people immune against infection by the virus, you have to test it to make sure the immunity applies to everybody, and then you have to be sure that the vaccine is safe.”

“We’ve got a lot of people who are nervous about vaccination all over the world, so safety is paramount,” he said. “You can’t rush it.”

Concern about a second wave

Nabarro also said that he was concerned about the spread of the disease across the world. He said that he wasn’t comfortable with the case numbers in the Americas, and that he was concerned that Europe may think the virus “is finished” as countries begin to reopen.

“It is not good. The reality is that this virus is advancing in different parts of the world faster and faster. The numbers we have are almost certainly a big underestimate of what is happening, because testing is not available in poorer places.

Yes, we’re a long long a way from the end, and we do have to live with this virus as a constant threat so we can get on with the things that matter to us all.

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He also said that the confusion around the effectiveness of face coverings was justified, as the evidence to prove their effectiveness was only “made available six weeks or so ago”.  

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