Hand washing and physical distancing may play an equal role in defeating Covid-19 as finding a vaccine, a global health chief said yesterday.
Dr Hans Kluge said it is ‘possible’ a vaccine will be available within a year but warned that this would not be a ‘silver bullet’.
The Europe chief of the World Health Organisation made his comments in an interview with the Daily Mail.
He does not believe a vaccine will automatically end the pandemic as there are no guarantees it will work for everybody.
Dr Kluge also raised fears that not all countries will get ‘equal access’ to one. This means measures like hand washing and distancing may be the most effective weapon until the virus becomes endemic or people develop immunity, he said.
When asked if a vaccine ‘changes everything’, he replied: ‘No. Everyone thinks that a vaccine is a panacea. First of all we don’t know if a vaccine will work in all age groups.
‘Nobody knows [when there will be a vaccine]. My dream would be within a year. It’s possible but it’s also very possible it will not be in one year.
‘But everyone talks about it as if it’s a silver bullet. But it’s absolutely not. I mean, 100 years ago we had Spanish flu and what was the best strategy? The same as now, hand washing and distancing.’ He added that his ‘wildest dream’ would be a mutation in the virus so it becomes less lethal.
‘It would become endemic, like the normal flu,’ said Dr Kluge. ‘It peaks and becomes less lethal and then we have to learn to live with it.’
But the director-general of the WHO yesterday warned that the fight against the virus was not even close to being over. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out that the pandemic was speeding up in many populous countries, saying: ‘With this kind of environment and conditions, we fear the worst.’
The Europe region within Dr Kluge’s remit is 53 countries: the UK, EU and the nations of central and eastern Europe, including Turkey and Russia.
He said a ‘very significant resurgence’ of cases across this area was proof countries must have ‘robust’ track and trace methods. Asked about Britain’s system, which fails to reach nearly one in four who test positive, he said it needed improvement but is ‘maturing’.
However, Dr Kluge has become concerned at images in England of youths at street raves, parties in parks and crowded beaches. He warned localised lockdowns could be inevitable if mass gatherings continue.
In a direct plea, he said: ‘Please realise that we understand your fatigue but it’s not over.’ There is also a danger of getting ‘too confident’ over the summer before an ‘explosion’ of cases in the winter, he added.