In Depth

Why the WHO is warning that coronavirus pandemic won’t end with a vaccine

Top official says localised lockdown measures are key to tackling Covid

Widespread hopes that a coronavirus vaccine will end the global pandemic are unrealistic, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official has warned.

Hans Kluge, the UN health agency’s regional director for Europe, told Bloomberg that while there has been an “unprecedented coordinated effort globally” to create a working vaccination against Covid-19, the drug is “not the issue”. 

“The vaccine is not going to be the end of the pandemic,” Kluge said. “The end of the pandemic is going to be when we as people learn to live with the pandemic, and that can begin tomorrow.”

What else did Kluge say?

Kluge has said repeatedly that while a Covid-19 vaccine may be ready by the end of the year, it would not be a “silver bullet” to end the pandemic.

He told Bloomberg that world governments must instead adopt a more wide-ranging approach to tackling the health crisis, and urged leaders to “take the responsibility and communicate clearly” in order to “instil public trust and hope”.

The public has a role to play too, Kluge added, and should “embrace” measures introduced to fight the spread of the virus.

His plea echoes comments made recently by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. In an address to reporters last month, Tedros said that while a vaccine would be a “vital tool” in the global fight against the coronavirus, “it won’t end the pandemic on its own”.

“We must all learn to control and manage this virus using the tools we have now, and to make the adjustments to our daily lives that are needed to keep ourselves and each other safe,” he said.

“That means every person and family has a responsibility to know the level of transmission locally, and to understand what they can do to protect themselves and others.”

How seasons could impact the spread

In a separate interview with the BBC, Kluge warned that European hospitals may face a major surge in coronavirus cases as we move into autumn.

“Let's not forget that we're entering three phenomena,” he told the broadcaster’s Today programme on Radio 4. “One is the reopening of the schools for the academic year, the second is the flu season and the third is the excess mortality in the elderly population during the winter.

“So I wouldn’t be surprised, unfortunately, if we see an increase in October, especially towards late November - there’s no reason for panic but we have to be aware.”

In a further note of caution, “Kluge said, unlike back in March, a national lockdown was not an option this time because the negative impact it would have on schools, the economy and society as a whole was too great”, the Daily Mail reports.

The top WHO official is advocating instead for targeted local lockdowns in regions hit by fresh outbreaks.

“This is the key message: if we look back in February, the full option was lockdown and re-booting but now we should target the virus,” he said.

Predictions for the future

In his Bloomberg interview, Kluge said that although the coronavirus pandemic has caused “far too much devastation”, it has also served as a “dress rehearsal for future threats”.

WHO boss Tedros has also suggested that the world is likely to be changed forever as a result of the crisis. 

“Throughout history, outbreaks and pandemics have changed economies and societies,” he said during his media briefing address last month. “In particular, the Covid-19 pandemic has given new impetus to the need to accelerate efforts to respond to climate change.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has given us a glimpse of our world as it could be: cleaner skies and rivers.”

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