GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization does not expect widespread vaccination against COVID-19 to begin until mid-next year, the organization's spokeswoman Margaret Harris said Wednesday, stressing the importance of rigorously testing the vaccine for efficacy and safety.
None of the candidate vaccines in stage two and third trials have so far shown a “clear signal” of at least 50% efficacy required for WHO, the spokeswoman said.
The Russian Federation approved the use of the COVID-19 vaccine in August after less than two months of human trials, which has led some Western experts to question its safety and effectiveness.
US health officials and Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) Inc said the day before that the vaccine could be ready for distribution as early as late October, ahead of the presidential elections in the United States.
“We really don't expect mass vaccinations until the middle of next year,” a spokeswoman said during a meeting with reporters in Geneva.
“The third phase (of the trials) should take longer because we need to see how much the vaccine protects against disease and how safe it is,” added Harris, referring to those vaccines that are undergoing extensive human clinical trials. The WHO representative did not identify a specific candidate from among the vaccines in development.
All data obtained during the tests must be made public and compared, Harris said.
“Many people have already been vaccinated, but we still do not know if the vaccine works … at this stage we do not have a clear signal about how effective and safe it is …”, she added.
The GAVI Alliance, along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI), is one of the leaders of a mechanism called COVAX, which aims to make COVID-19 vaccines globally available.
COVAX plans to purchase and ship worldwide 2 billion doses of approved vaccines by the end of 2021, but several countries that have secured future supplies through bilateral deals, including the United States, have indicated they will not join the program.
“Either way, the door is open. We are open. COVAX is the guarantee that everyone on the planet has access to vaccines,” Harris said.
(Stephanie Nebehei and Emma Farge, translated by Olga Devyatiarova. Editor Anna Kozlova)