Dr Mike Ryan, head of the WHO emergencies programme, said on Tuesday that the pandemic was a ‘wake-up call’.
‘This pandemic has been very severe… it has affected every corner of this planet. But this is not necessarily the big one,’ he told a media briefing.
The coronavirus has so far killed 1,799, 337 people world wide and the most recent SAGE estimates put its infection fatality rate at 0.5%, meaning it kills one of every 200 people infected.
Spanish Flu was the last major global pandemic and killed in excess of 50million people between 1918 and 1919. It was much more deadly to younger people and there was a high mortality rate among those aged 20-40 years old.
It’s Infection fatality rate was 2.5%, and it is feared that a similarly deadly global pandemic today would shut down global civilisation, potentially disrupting food supplies as workers in global supply chains stay home over fears for them and their families.
Food shortages could spark global unrest much bigger than the riots that were provoked by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the middle of the pandemic this year.
And the stability of governments across the globe could be threatened by such widespread unrest.
The Black Death is believed to be the world’s deadliest pandemic and killed between 75million and 200million people across Africa, Europe and Asia between 1347 and 1351.
Dr Ryan added: ‘This [coronavirus] is a wake-up call. We are learning, now, how to do things better: science, logistics, training and governance, how to communicate better. But the planet is fragile.
‘We live in an increasingly complex global society. These threats will continue. If there is one thing we need to take from this pandemic, with all of the tragedy and loss, is we need to get our act together. We need to honour those we’ve lost by getting better at what we do every day.’
Spanish flu death toll: The Spanish Flu struck in three waves between 1918 and 1919. It had a fatality rate of around 2.5%, far higher than coronavirus’s 0.5%, and killed 50million people
Masked doctors and nurses treat Spanish flu patients lying on cots and in outdoor tents at a hospital camp in America, 1918. The Spanish flu was much more deadly than coronavirus and killed 50million people worldwide
The World Health Organization has warned that the coronavirus pandemic is ‘not necessarily the big one’ and that a more deadly virus could yet sweep the globe. Pictured: People are tested for coronavirus in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Wednesday
Ryan also said that the virus was likely to remain part of our lives despite the introduction of vaccines that have started to be rolled out in Europe and the United States.
‘The likely scenario is the virus will become another endemic virus that will remain something of a threat, but a very low-level threat in the context of an effective global vaccination programme.’
‘It remains to be seen how well the vaccines are taken up, how close we get to a coverage level that might allow us the opportunity to go for elimination.
‘The existence of a vaccine, even at high efficacy, is no guarantee of eliminating or eradicating an infectious disease. That is a very high bar for us to be able to get over,’ he said.
Ryan said that was why the vaccine distribution is designed to save lives by protecting the most vulnerable, The Guardian reported.
‘And then we will deal with the moonshot of potentially being able to eliminate or eradicate this virus.’
Professor David Heymann, chair of the WHO’s strategic and technical advisory group for infectious hazards, told the briefing earlier that it was the ‘destiny’ of the virus to become endemic.
‘The world has hopes for herd immunity, that somehow transmission would be decreased if enough persons were immune’ Heymann said at a media briefing, before explaining that the concept of herd immunity was misunderstood.
‘It appears the destiny of SARS-CoV-2 [Covid-19] is to become endemic, as have four other human coronaviruses, and that it will continue to mutate as it reproduces in human cells, especially in areas of more intense admission.
‘Fortunately, we have tools to save lives, and these in combination with good public health will permit us to learn to live with Covid-19.’
Being vaccinated against the virus did not mean an end to social distancing and other public health measures, chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan told the briefing on Tuesday.
‘I don’t believe we have the evidence on any of the vaccines to be confident that it’s going to prevent people from actually getting the infection and therefore being able to pass it on.
‘So I think we need to assume that people who have been vaccinated also need to take the same precautions,’ Swaminathan said, adding that the vaccine is intended to prevent symptomatic disease as well as severe cases of infection and deaths.
At the briefing, which was the global health body’s last of the year, director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was a time to reflect on both the toll of the pandemic and progress made.
He pointed to new variants of Covid-19 and pandemic fatigue as likely challenges to expect in the year ahead.
‘New ground has been broken, not least with the extraordinary cooperation between the private and public sector in this pandemic. And in recent weeks, safe and effective vaccine rollout has started in a number of countries, which is an incredible scientific achievement,’ he said.
‘This is fantastic, but WHO will not rest until those in need everywhere have access to the new vaccines and are protected.’
Israel leads the global vaccine race with 24/7, 150,000-dose-a-day drive that has already inoculated 7% of its population – but the UK is third and has delivered more jabs in total
Israel is leading the global vaccination race with more than seven per cent of its population already given the jab in the space of nine days.
Some 644,000 people have received a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab in the country of 8.7million, the highest per-capita rate in the world.
The rapid rollout in a country that prides itself on self-reliance comes after Israel’s health minister ordered a 24/7 vaccination drive, hundreds of military medics were drafted in to help with the effort and the country ordered shots from all three of Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca in advance.
Israel is expected to launch a so-called ‘green passport’ scheme in January which means people immunised against Covid-19 will avoid having to quarantine if they travel from abroad or come into contact with a virus patient.
Bahrain is second in the global vaccine table, while Britain is third after handing out 800,000 doses in barely two weeks by Christmas Eve – with the UK set to ramp up its vaccine drive after today’s approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.
The US has given out the most vaccines outright after injecting more than 2.1million people, but president-elect Joe Biden has criticised delays in the rollout.
Europe started its own programme at the weekend after an EU regulator finally approved the Pfizer jab, with Portugal and Denmark making the fastest progress on the continent so far.
Israel is leading the global vaccine race after handing out vaccines to more than seven per cent of its population in nine days, with Bahrain second in the per-capita league table
The US has delivered more doses than any other country, but president-elect Joe Biden has criticised delays in the rollout. The UK has handed out the most in Europe so far
An Israeli military medic prepares to administer the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at a medical centre in Rishion LeZion on Monday
Chinese firm says its vaccine is 79 per cent effective
Chinese pharma giant Sinopharm said today that its Covid-19 vaccine was 79 per cent effective in Phase III trials.
China has already given out over a million vaccines under an emergency use programme, but Sinopharm’s announcement is the first data on the efficacy of a Chinese vaccine.
But China, where the coronavirus first surfaced last year, has struggled to gain international trust for its vaccine candidates, hindered by a lack of transparency on test results.
It has also been slow to complete Phase III trials, which had to be conducted abroad due to China’s success at curbing the spread of Covid-19 within its own borders.
But Bahrain and the UAE have both approved Sinopharm vaccines, with Beijing vowing to share its products at a relatively low cost to poorer Asian countries.
Sinopharm has applied to China’s drug regulator for approval of the vaccine, a statement said.
China plans to vaccinate millions this winter in the run-up to Lunar New Year, and officials have vowed to ramp up vaccine production capacity to more than one billion doses next year.
While the 79 per cent figure is lower than the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna jabs, the Sinopharm product does not require the -70C temperatures needed to store the Pfizer jab, a near-impossible logistical challenge in many developing countries.
It gives China a diplomatic tool after facing widespread criticism led by the US and Australia over its handling of the initial outbreak in Wuhan.
Chinese health authorities this week said data from antibodies circulating in Wuhan suggests the number of cases in the epicentre of the pandemic may be 10 times higher than previously reported.
Israel’s health minister said on Wednesday that nearly 152,000 people had been vaccinated in a day, bringing the total well above half a million.
The 643,600 people vaccinated are already more numerous than the 412,398 people who have tested positive for coronavirus in Israel.
After two national lockdowns and more than 3,000 deaths, Israel began its mass vaccination programme on December 20 after PM Benjamin Netanyahu became the first citizen to get the jab.
Netanyahu, who has self-isolated three times after being exposed to Covid carriers, has called for more than two million people to be vaccinated within a month.
‘This is the critical stage, the first stage, because here is the population at risk, all the medical teams, all of the people over 60,’ he said.
‘As soon as we are done with this stage, within 30 days we can emerge from the coronavirus, open the economy and do things that no country can do.’
While only the Pfizer jab has been used so far, Israel also has shipments of the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines on order.
Israel’s justice ministry also announced it had asked Facebook to take down false anti-vaccine content as the government tries to drum up support for the programme.
Four Hebrew-language groups were removed for publishing texts, photographs and videos with ‘deliberately mendacious content designed to mislead about coronavirus vaccines’.
The fake news included spurious claims that vaccines would be used to plant government tracking chips in recipients’ bodies, poison them or subject them to medical experimentation.
Israel is followed in the global league table by Bahrain, where 56,041 people had been vaccinated out of a population of 1.7million by Tuesday evening.
Bahrain is using the Sinopharm vaccine developed by the Chinese pharmaceutical giant of the same name, which says the jab is 79 per cent effective.
China has struggled to gain trust for its vaccine candidates, hindered by a lack of transparency on test results, but it has been approved in Bahrain and the UAE.
It has also been slow to complete Phase 3 trials, which had to be conducted abroad due to China’s success at curbing the spread of Covid-19 within its own borders.
However, more than one million people have already been given vaccine doses in China under its emergency use programme.
They include frontline health workers, state-owned enterprise employees and workers planning to travel abroad.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli to get the vaccine on December 19, rolling up his sleeves at a medical centre in Ramat Gan
China plans to vaccinate millions more this winter in the run-up to Lunar New Year, and officials have vowed to ramp up capacity to more than one billion doses.
Beijing has pledged to share its vaccines at a relatively low cost – a potential boost for poorer Asian countries who are otherwise reliant on limited distribution offered by a global scheme.
Third in the global vaccine race is Britain, which approved the Pfizer jab before its EU neighbours or the United States.
Today the UK became the first to approve the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, which unlike the Pfizer jab can be stored at normal fridge temperatures.
This means the Oxford vaccine is easier to roll out to places such as care homes and GP surgeries, paving the way for an even larger vaccination programme.
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme deliveries will be ramped up ‘very rapidly’ in the first and second week of January.
He added: ‘We will start delivering this week – maybe today or tomorrow we will be shipping our first doses.
‘The vaccination will start next week and we will get to one million a week and beyond that very rapidly.
‘We can go to two million. In January we will already possibly be vaccinating several million people and by the end of the first quarter we are going to be in the tens of millions already.’
Bahrain, where a woman is pictured receiving a vaccine in Manama last week, has approved both the Pfizer jab and another shot developed by Chinese firm Sinopharm
Asked whether two million vaccinations per week is possible, health secretary Matt Hancock told Times Radio: ‘That’s absolutely deliverable by the NHS.’
In the US, the two million people vaccinated so far are well short of a Trump administration target to immunise 20milloin people before the end of 2020.
President-elect Joe Biden criticised Trump’s vaccine rollout on Tuesday, warning it would take years at the current rate to deliver the necessary shots.
‘As I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should,’ Biden said.
Biden’s goal of ensuring that 100 million shots are administered by the end of his 100th day in office would mean ‘ramping up five to six times the current pace to one million shots a day,’ he added.
Earlier in the day, Biden’s vice president-elect Kamala Harris received her Moderna vaccine live on television in a bid to boost confidence.
Biden, 78, received his first dose of the vaccine last week and has vowed to make the pandemic his top priority when he takes office on January 20.
But Dr Atul Gawande, a member of Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board, told CBS News the transition team still did not have all the information it needed to understand the bottlenecks hampering vaccine distribution.
‘The realistic picture is to expect it could be fall before … enough people are being vaccinated that we’re getting back to normal and that it might be summer before the general public is really accessing the vaccine,’ he said.