WHO says Covid vaccine trials are ‘encouraging’ but it’ll take time to ensure it’s safe for everyone

Laboratory technicians handle capped vials as part of filling and packaging tests for the large-scale production and supply of the University of Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate, AZD1222, conducted on a high-performance aseptic vial filling line on September 11, 2020 at the Italian biologics manufacturing facility of multinational corporation Catalent in Anagni.

Vincenzo Pinto | AFP via Getty Images

LONDON — The World Health Organization has welcomed updates from developers scrambling to deliver a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine, but cautioned it is still “going to take time” before one is widely available.

It comes shortly after AstraZeneca said its vaccine candidate against the coronavirus had produced a similar immune response in older and younger adults.

The British pharmaceutical giant, working in collaboration with the University of Oxford, said adverse responses to its potential Covid vaccine among the elderly were also found to be lower.

The announcement boosted expectations that a potential vaccine could be developed before the end of the year, potentially helping to bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed over 1.16 million lives.

When asked to respond to the update from AstraZeneca, a spokesperson for the WHO told CNBC: “The immune system in older people is less robust in its response to COVID-19, and we hope that the future vaccine(s) against COVID-19 will be safe, effective and efficacious also in this high-risk population group with high mortality rates.”

“While the information coming from the vaccine developers is encouraging, WHO has not yet seen published data on the efficacy of a vaccine candidate in the elderly,” the spokesperson said via email on Wednesday.

The United Nations health agency has said that older people, in addition to people of all ages with preexisting medical conditions, appear to develop serious illness on contracting the coronavirus more often than others.

“Documenting the safety and efficacy of a vaccine that would be made widely available is critical — full data and longer follow-up to gather the evidence is required to make an informed decision,” the WHO spokesperson said.

“It is going to take time before we have a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine — in any population group — and even longer before it is available to a large number of people,” they continued. “That is why it is important to continue using public health tools and measures that we know are effective in preventing the infection and breaking the chain of transmission.”

Pandemic response

The WHO’s comments come at a time when many are concerned about the prospect of strict lockdowns to tackle a recent upsurge in the number of reported Covid cases and related deaths in Europe and the U.S.

Drugmakers and research centers are scrambling to deliver a safe and effective vaccine, with the vaccine candidate being developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford thought to be one of the frontrunners to secure regulatory approval.

There are more than 100 Covid-19 vaccine candidates under development, according to the WHO, with a number of those already conducting late-stage tests before seeking formal approval.

The WHO has said it is working in collaboration with scientists, businesses and global health organizations to speed up the pandemic response.

It has also pledged to facilitate the distribution of any safe and effective vaccines to protect people in all countries, with those most at risk to be prioritized.

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