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Effective Covid vaccine may take 2.5 years: WHO special envoy Dr David Nabarro

The world may have to wait for up to 2.5 years before it gets a vaccine against Covid-19 which is not only effective, but is also produced at mass scale, said Dr David Nabarro, special envoy to the World Health Organisation (WHO), on Thursday.

In an exclusive interview to India Today TV’s Consulting Editor Rajdeep Sardesai, Dr David Nabarro said at present there is no cure available for Covid-19 and if anyone is making such claims, they must be asked to provide complete evidence.

Commenting on the development of vaccines in different parts of the world, some of which have entered the human trail stage, Dr Nabarro said the first thing that needs to be understood is that we truly do not yet know whether a person who has once been infected with Covid-19 gets fully immune from getting it again.

“Even when a vaccine comes, it will take some time for us to know for certain whether or not a person who has been vaccinated is fully protected from the virus. There is still a lot to be proved,” he said.

“The second question is will these proposed vaccines be safe so that when they are given to a person, they won’t trigger adverse reactions. When you are using vaccines, you have to be careful about adverse reactions,” Dr David Nabarro said.

Speaking about the hypothetical situation when there are a few vaccines that have shown to work and have gone through clinical trial, Dr Nabarro said even if this happens by early 2021, it will not be very helpful.

“This is because what we really need is enough vaccines so that everybody in the world is able to receive a shot. This has to be done in a way that prioritises the needs of those who have the greatest exposure. People in rich countries and people in the poor countries must both have access to the vaccine,” he said.

“How long will it take to ensure that everyone in the world is given a dose of the vaccine? I am of the view that we will take at least 2.5 years for this. This is why I am telling everybody to plan accordingly and be ready to change their living habits for at least 2.5 years. If it turns out to be quicker, I should be the first person to jump with joy,” Dr Nabarro said.


Over the past few months, medical experts, governments and news reports have repeatedly used the term “learning to live with Covid-19”, to suggest that since an early cure is nowhere in sight, people must learn to make behavioural changes to restrict the virus’ spread.

“Living with coronavirus doesn’t mean giving up or taking the virus for granted. In fact, it means taking a robust approach to contain its spread,” Dr Nabarro said, adding that the virus is here to stay.

“It is a dangerous virus, and it is not going to go anywhere soon. There is no proven cure for Covid-19. If anyone makes a claim that they have a cure, then you need to seek all the evidence,” he said.

Speaking about the ongoing pandemic, Dr Nabarro said there are still hundreds of millions of people in the world who are susceptible to this virus and the disease it can cause. “There is a solution…as humanity we will need to change our behaviour and prevent the virus from transmitting. That does not mean having a lockdown. What it means is reacting very quickly whenever there is an outbreak developing in a localised area,” he said.

‘Lockdowns will have to end at some point’

On the road ahead, Dr Nabarro said people will take some time to get used to the new normal. “It will be stressful in the beginning. My view is that in the coming weeks and months, we should collectively shift our behaviour so that we can live with the threat of Covid-19 and restart our economies.”

When asked if some countries are unlocking too fast, Dr Nabarro said the WHO is of the view that no one should underestimate this virus. “In the beginning, there were people who were of the view that this is just like a mild flue but actually this virus is revealing new things all the time.”

“A lockdown is a very crude instrument to fight a virus like this. It effectively holds the virus where it is and delays its spread. But sooner or later, you will have to end the lockdown because it is causing so much economic and social disruption.”

Asked if there is a way out of this, he said the WHO has been stating that whenever a government decides to open a lockdown, it must ensure that it has done everything possible to build up its capacity to interrupt transmission and supress outbreaks.

“We try not to make criticism of any government because we know that each government is facing tough choices today as they deal with this virus. We are telling them that as you open lockdowns, remember that there will be more movement and chances of transmission, which makes it important that adequate infrastructure is in place,” Dr Nabarro said.

The Indian scenario

On Thursday, the total number of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 in India crossed the 6 lakh-mark. India is already the fourth most-affected country in the world in terms of total cases. Over the last one week, more than 15,000 cases were reported every day in India as the country entered Unlock 2.0.

Speaking about the rate and scale of transmission in India, Dr Nabarro said the transmission is certainly accelerating, but it is “nothing in comparison to the situation that we would have, if no measures were taken to check it”.

“Overall, the health capacity in India is quite strong. It however varies from region to region. The scale up in the number of tests that are being carried out India, even to the present level, is an extraordinary achievement. I want to repeat this, it is an extraordinary achievement given the country’s size,” he said.

Asked about concerns that there are chances of a second wave of coronavirus hitting the world, Dr Nabarro said the coronavirus will continue to pose threats of re-occurrence.

“As movements increase world over, this virus will come again. Reoccurrence (second wave) has already been reported in Singapore, Japan, South Korea, the UK and in Germany.”

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