COVID-19

WHO urges countries: Don’t just wait for COVID-19 vaccine

Sofia Tomacruz
‘What is important is we continue to improve our response and not just hope for the vaccine,’ says WHO Western Pacific Regional Director Dr Takeshi Kasai

The World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific region urged countries to continue improving efforts to respond to the pandemic instead of pinning hopes for a return to normalcy on a COVID-19 vaccine. 

In a forum on Tuesday, August 18, WHO Western Pacific Regional Director Dr Takeshi Kasai said he viewed the global race to develop a viable vaccine with both “optimism and caution.” 

“Optimistic because I’ve been so impressed by the speed of development. But I’m also cautious because, even if they can really manage and develop safe and effective vaccines, the production capacity would not really meet the demand coming from the entire world,” Kasai said. 

“I think what is important is we continue to improve our response and not just hope for the vaccine,” he added. 

Why it matters

At unprecedented speeds, scientists around the world have been focused on developing a vaccine that is both safe and effective, but experts say the time when vaccines will reach communities for mass use is still far off. 

For one, many public health experts point to developing a vaccine as only the first step. Some of the biggest challenges in getting populations vaccinated include manufacturing and distributing these worldwide.  

Experts have pointed out that countries which can afford to buy vaccines will also get first access, leaving poorer nations to wait. (READ: Why Duterte shouldn’t just wait for a vaccine from China)

In a piece on The Conversation, University of Sydney associate professor and Global Health Security Network director Adam Kamradt-Scott said this had happened on at least two occasions. 

In 2007, Indonesia couldn’t purchase H5N1 influenza (bird flu) vaccines despite being one of the worst-affected countries at the time, as other countries had advanced purchase agreements with manufacturers. In 2009, rich countries likewise bought up “almost all the stock of H1N1 influenza vaccines, crowding out less-developed nations,” he said.

In the Philippines, where cases continue to increase and government response has been slow, many critics say the country’s strategy has been reduced to waiting for a vaccine. President Rodrigo Duterte himself has mentioned on several occasions that a vaccine is the “only salvation now.” 

What should be done

Kasai emphasized there are measures that can and should be taken now by governments across the region. These include implementing early detection and treatment strategies, as well as strengthening public health systems to identify, trace, isolate, and treat cases and their contacts. 

“COVID-19 is not just happening to us…. We know it’s a long and difficult stretch and we will face setbacks, but we must keep trying, learning, and doing it together. How we fare is up to each and every one of us. If we make the right choice every day, we’ll come out of this as safe and as strong as possible,” he said. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.