WHO: COVID-19 vaccine may be ready by year-end

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    GENEVA — A vaccine against COVID-19 may be ready by year-end, the head of the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.

    WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for solidarity and political commitment by all leaders to ensure equal distribution of vaccines when they become available.

    “We will need vaccines and there is hope that by the end of this year we may have a vaccine. There is hope,” Tedros said in final remarks to the WHO’s Executive Board, without elaborating.

    Nine experimental vaccines are in the pipeline of the WHO’s COVAX global vaccine facility that aims to distribute 2 billion doses by the end of 2021.

    The two-day board meeting, which examined the global response to the pandemic, heard calls from countries including Germany, Britain and Australia for reforms to strengthen the UN agency.

    US President Donald Trump’s administration has strongly criticized the WHO’s role in the crisis, accusing it of being too close to China and not doing enough to question Beijing’s actions late last year when the virus first emerged in Wuhan.

    Tedros has dismissed the suggestions and said his agency has kept the world informed.

    Three independent panels reviewing WHO performance including its 2005 International Health Regulations – which set guidelines on trade and travel restrictions imposed during health emergencies – gave updates on their work.

    The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, met for the first time last month.

    “We hope to get the real lessons that we can implement and prevent the same thing from happening,” Tedros said. “But I would like to assure you that WHO is ready to learn from this and change this organization.

    “During our transformation we promised this, we promised to keep change as a constant,” he said, referring to his program since taking the helm in 2017.

    In Manila, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the Department of Health has started preparing for the vaccine’s arrival.

    She said government is not just preparing for the country’s participation in the WHO Solidarity Trial for Vaccines but also for the actual vaccine distribution.

    “As we wait for WHO to announce the trial sites, when really the start of the clinical trials, in parallel, we have started our preparatory activities already (for the distribution) so that when the WHO signals, we are already ready,” said Vergeire.

    For the clinical trials, she said the protocols and proponents for the activity have been identified and approved, and sites of the clinical trials have been identified by the DOH and the WHO.

    Vergeire said the DOH is also set to begin engagements with communities which need to be aware of the potential effects of the vaccines.

    Months ago, the Philippines declared its intention to participate in the Solidarity Trial for Vaccines of the WHO, which is projected to commence by late October. — Gerard Naval and Reuters