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December 6, 2020

WHO warns virus crisis not over as vaccine rollout starts


December 6, 2020

WASHINGTON: The World Health Organisation warned that vaccines were no magic bullet for the coronavirus crisis, as Russia started vaccinating its high-risk workers on Saturday and other countries geared up for similar programmes.

The WHO warned about what it said was an erroneous belief that the Covid-19 crisis is over with jabs on the horizon, nearly a year after the start of the pandemic that has killed 1.5 million people worldwide.

“Vaccines do not equal zero Covid,” said WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan, adding that not everyone will be able to receive it early next year.

“Vaccination will add a major, major, powerful tool to the tool kit that we have. But by themselves, they will not do the job.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also cautioned against the “growing perception that the pandemic is over” with the virus still spreading fast, putting enormous pressure on hospitals and health care workers.

Health officials in Moscow said they had opened 70 coronavirus vaccine centres in the Russian capital that would initially offer jabs for health, education and social workers.

The WHO caution came as the United States clocked a record number of Covid-19 cases for a second day in a row Friday, with the country preparing for what US President-elect Joe Biden has called a “dark winter”.

America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended “universal face mask use” indoors and Biden said he would scale down his January inauguration ceremony to mitigate the virus risk.

It comes as countries prepare for the approval and rollout of several vaccines that have proven effective in trials. The WHO says 51 candidate vaccines are currently being tested on humans, with 13 reaching final-stage mass testing.

Britain on Wednesday became the first Western country to approve an inoculation, from a Pfizer-BioNTech, for general use, piling pressure on other countries to swiftly follow suit.

The United States is expected to give a green light later this month.

Belgium, France and Spain have said jabs will begin in January for the most vulnerable.

With the imminent arrival of vaccines that need storage at ultra-low temperatures, US companies are preparing for a massive logistical effort to aid their distribution.

Firms specializing in insulating containers are on a war footing after Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine needs to be stored at -94 degrees Fahrenheit (-70 Celsius).

Meat processing giant Smithfield said it was ready to put the cold rooms at its abattoirs at the disposal of vaccine rollout operations.

And US logistics giant UPS is producing 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms) of dry ice an hour in its depots and has developed portable freezers capable of storing the vaccines at temperatures down to -112 Fahrenheit.

Standing in the way of success are growing signs of vaccine skepticism, with misinformation and mistrust coloring public acceptance of inoculation.

In Russia, Levada polling agency recently found that only 36 percent of respondents were prepared to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Several high-profile figures have pledged to receive the vaccine in public in an effort to build confidence, including Biden, Tedros and former US presidents Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton. The United States recorded 225,000 new infections on Friday -- the second daily record in a row for the world’s worst-hit nation.

Biden said the surging number of cases meant he would scale back his inauguration ceremony set for January.

“We’re going to follow the science and the recommendations of the experts,” Biden told reporters.Meanwhile, for the second day in a row, the United States on Friday notched a record number of coronavirus cases in 24 hours, reaching 225,201 new infections, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, poorer countries risk being overlooked during the roll-out of coronavirus vaccines, a top official with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) warned.

“I’m very worried,” Frederik Kristensen, the deputy head of Oslo-based CEPI told AFP.

“If we have pictures going around the world now of how everybody in the wealthy part of the world are getting vaccines and nothing is happening in the (developing) part of the world, that is a big, big, big problem”.

Kristensen was speaking as major nations such as Britain, France and the United States geared up for vaccination programmes in their countries.

CEPI is a partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil organisations launched in 2017 to develop vaccines to stop future epidemics in a way that is equitable. It committed $1.1 billion to finance the development of nine candidate coronavirus vaccines, including those of the US firm Moderna and the British company AstraZeneca.

Nearly two billion vaccine doses have been promised through “Covax”, an international alliance led by the World Health Organisation which is negotiating with laboratories for equitable access for the vaccine, Kristensen said.