GENEVA – The World Health Organization (WHO) sought on Thursday to sound a note of optimism about the prospects for a vaccine against coronavirus as the global death toll passed 700,000 and the number of confirmed cases reached 18.6 million.
Days after pointing to an absence of a “silver bullet” for COVID-19, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasized that six candidates for a vaccine are in a “very advanced stage.”
Speaking by videolink to the Aspen Security Forum in the United States, the Ethiopian scientist said that what he meant to say on Monday was that there is no “silver bullet right now.”
With three potential vaccines having entered the third stage of clinical trials, the WHO is “hopeful,” Tedros said, explaining that the aim of his earlier comments was to caution against reliance on a vaccine or treatment as a “panacea.”
“Physical distancing, hand hygiene, wearing a mask and so on,” he said Thursday. “If we can use all these tools, we can suppress and control this pandemic, many countries have shown. So my message was, let’s do what we can do today to save lives.”
While Europe still leads in fatalities (214,000), Latin America, with more than 203,000 deaths, is catching up. And the Western Hemisphere – including the United States – accounts for nearly 10 million cases.
By country, the US is first in both deaths, 159,000, and cases, with 4.85 million. Next on the list is Brazil, where coronavirus has claimed 97,418 lives and infected 2.86 million people.
The new cases worldwide came close to 300,000 on Aug. 1 before dropping back to around 210,000 since then, but WHO and other health experts fear infections could spike again as soon as Friday.
Three of the six “very advanced” vaccines were developed in China, while two others are from the US and the sixth is a project of researchers in the United Kingdom.
Once any of the six formulas now in Phase 3 trials delivers positive results, “the vaccine will be produced and the population will be immunized, but we must be cautious and see possible adverse effects before vaccinating thousands of people,” said the WHO executive director, Dr. Mike Ryan.
More than 150 other laboratories are at work on the problem, he said.
WHO has responded cautiously to word from the Russian government that a vaccine developed by the Gamalei National Center for Epidemiological Research and Microbiology is in the last phase of testing and could be administered to people as soon as October.