WHO: COVID-19 is 10 times more deadly than swine flu; 70 vaccines in the works

Published April 14, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg

GENEVA – The novel coronavirus is 10 times more deadly than swine flu, which caused a global pandemic in 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday, stressing a vaccine would be necessary to fully halt transmission.

The WHO said there are 70 coronavirus vaccines in development globally, with three candidates already being tested in human trials, as drugmakers race to find a cure for the deadly pathogen.

FILE PHOTO: A logo is pictured on the headquarters of the World Health Orgnaization (WHO) ahead of a meeting of the Emergency Committee on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Geneva, Switzerland, January 30, 2020. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/MANILA BULLETIN)
A logo is pictured on the headquarters of the World Health Orgnaization (WHO) ahead of a meeting of the Emergency Committee on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Geneva, Switzerland, January 30, 2020. (REUTERS / Denis Balibouse / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

The furthest along in the clinical process is an experimental vaccine developed by Hong Kong-listed CanSino Biologics Inc. and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology, which is in phase 2.

The other two being tested in humans are treatments developed separately by US drugmakers Moderna Inc. and Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc., according to a WHO document.

Progress is occurring at unprecedented speed in developing vaccines as the infectious pathogen looks unlikely to be stamped out through containment measures alone.

The drug industry is hoping to compress the time it takes to get a vaccine to market — usually about 10 to 15 years — to within the next year.

Drugmakers big and small have jumped in to try to develop a vaccine, which would be the most effective way to contain the virus. Pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer Inc. and Sanofi have vaccine candidates in the preclinical stages, according to the WHO document.

CanSino said last month it received Chinese regulatory approval to start human trials of its vaccine.

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna — which has never put out a product — received regulatory approval to move quickly to human trials in March, skipping the years of animal trials that are the norm in developing vaccines. Inovio began its human trials last week.

Decelerating slowly

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual briefing from Geneva that the organization was constantly learning about the new virus sweeping the globe, which has now killed nearly 115,000 people and infected over 1.8 million.

“We know that COVID-19 spreads fast, and we know that it is deadly, 10 times deadlier than the 2009 flu pandemic,” he said.

WHO says 18,500 people died of “swine flu” (H1N1), which was first uncovered in Mexico and the United States in March 2009, but the Lancet medical estimated the toll to be between 151,700 and 575,400.

The Lancet review included estimated deaths in Africa and Southeast

Asia that were not accounted for by the WHO.

The outbreak, which was declared a pandemic in June 2009 and considered over by August 2010, turned out to be not as deadly as first feared. Vaccines were rushed out, but in hindsight, the West, particularly Europe, and the WHO were criticized for overreacting at a time when annual influenza epidemics every year killed between 250,000 and 500,000 people, according to WHO.

Tedros lamented Monday that some countries are seeing a doubling of cases every three to four days, but stressed that if countries were committed to “early case finding, testing, isolating (and) caring for every case and tracing every contact” they could rein in the virus.

More than half of the planet’s population is currently staying home as part of efforts to stem the spread of the virus, but Tedros warned that “our global connectedness means the risk of re-introduction and resurgence of the disease will continue”.

He pointed out that while COVID-19 had accelerated quickly, “it decelerates much more slowly.”

“In other words, the way down is much slower than the way up,” he said, stressing that “control measures must be lifted slowly, and with control. It cannot happen all at once.”

“Control measures can only be lifted if the right public health measures are in place, including significant capacity for contact tracing,” he said.

Regardless of the efforts put in place, the WHO acknowledged that “ultimately, the development and delivery of a safe and effective vaccine will be needed to fully interrupt transmission.”

 
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