Vaccine could change pandemic's arc: WHO

Emma Farge and Stephanie Nebehay
·3-min read

A coronavirus vaccine may be rolled out by March 2021 to the most vulnerable which along with other advances could fundamentally change the course of the pandemic, a senior World Health Organisation official says.

Bruce Aylward told the WHO's annual ministerial assembly that interim results from Pfizer Inc's late-stage vaccine trial were "very positive".

"There is still much work to be done, this is just interim results...but some very positive results coming today which should hold great promise hopefully for the entire world as we move forward," Aylward told the 194-member state forum.

"By March as a result of the extraordinary work happening globally we could be in a position to fundamentally change the direction and the dynamic of this crisis," he added.

Pfizer said its experimental COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90 per cent effective, raising hope as the pandemic accelerates with more than 50 million cases and 1.2 million deaths.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also welcomed the "encouraging vaccine news" in a tweet.

The Pfizer-BioNTech candidate was not among the original nine vaccines forming part of a WHO-run "COVAX" facility to finance and distribute them fairly around the world.

However, the companies have expressed interest in supplying the program.

The WHO has said more vaccines are under consideration.

Pfizer and BioNTech said they expected to seek US authorisation this month for emergency use of the vaccine, raising the possibility of a regulatory decision as soon as December.

Aylward gave an upbeat assessment of overall prospects.

"In diagnostics we are in a position to massively expand testing globally, in therapeutics we have sufficient tools right now to substantially reduce the risk of dying from this disease and in the area of vaccines - with the news of today especially - we are on the verge of having the readiness in place to roll out doses for high-risk populations in the late first quarter, early 2nd quarter."

It comes as the European continent endures a second wave of coronavirus infections, with the numbers of confirmed infections spiking in certain countries while lockdown measures are starting to show an effect in others.

The Czech Republic recorded its lowest count in four weeks with 3608 new cases in the last 24 hours, although authorities warned against premature optimism and said it could be because less tests are usually conducted over the weekend.

Italy reported 25,271 new infections, down from a peak of nearly 40,000 on Saturday, but the daily death toll was 356, up by 25 on the previous day.

The rate of coronavirus infections in Belgium decreased by 40 per cent within seven days, with 66,000 cases recorded in the week leading up to November 5 compared to 110,000 new cases the previous week.

The number of deaths related to the virus, however, increased by 55 per cent, Belgian health body Sciensano said on Monday.

Germany reported a record number 3005 coronavirus cases in intensive care, with 1688 patients on ventilators.

There were 13,363 new infections in the last 24 hours.

India reported 45,903 new coronavirus cases, with its capital recording the highest single-day rise in infections since the pandemic began.

The health ministry on Monday also reported 490 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities in the country to 126,611.