WHO urges countries to improve COVID-19 response and not just hope for vaccine

Davinci Maru, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 18 2020 09:13 PM

WHO urges countries to improve COVID-19 response and not just hope for vaccine 1
Health-care workers administer flu and pneumonia vaccines to 75-year-old Lolita Espiritu as part of their community vaccination drive in Barangay Pembo, Makati City on Aug. 12, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Amid serious efforts to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), countries should not just pin all hopes on it, but instead continue improving their response against the pandemic, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said Tuesday.

"I think what is important is we continue to improve our response and not just hope for the vaccine," Takeshi Kasai, WHO's Western Pacific regional director, said in a virtual briefing.

Kasai cautioned there could be a supply shortage due to the worldwide demand once a vaccine is approved.

"When we talk about vaccine, my position is on one hand very optimistic; on one hand, very cautious. Optimistic because I'm so impressed by the speed of development," he said.

"But I'm also cautious because even they can really manage and develop [a] safe and effective vaccine, production capacity would not really reach the demand coming from the entire world."

The Philippines is in talks with Russia for the conduct of clinical trials for the Moscow-made coronavirus vaccine dubbed "Sputnik V."

Dr. Socorro Escalante, coordinator for essential medicines health technologies of the Manila-headquartered WHO Western Pacific Region, said they had yet to review the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, which according to Russia, offers sustainable immunity against the virus.

"The WHO is aware of the ongoing discussions of Russia and the Philippines with regard to the sharing of vaccines to the Philippines. We have information that this vaccine might be available by October in the Philippines. The WHO welcomes all advances in COVID-19 vaccines research and development," she said.

"However, we also continue to emphasize that accelerating vaccines research should be done following the steps to ensure that every step of development will contribute to ensuring the safety and effectiveness of vaccines."

"All candidate vaccines that are going into production should adhere to the standards of safety and efficacy," Escalante said.

The vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya research institute in coordination with Russia's defense ministry, was earlier listed as only being in Phase 1.

During the briefing, Kasai acknowledged the improved pandemic response of the Philippines, citing its expanded testing capacity and strengthening of its health-care system.

"The Philippine government has been putting a lot of effort to continuously improving their capacity," he said.

For the WHO official, while the Philippines may have the highest number of coronavirus cases in the Western Pacific region, what's important is that hospitals are not stretched to their limits.

"So far, we haven't really seen the number has overwhelmed their health-care facilities. But what we see, the positivity rate... for number of people who is treated in the ICU is continuously increasing," he said.

According to the latest Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard, close to 22 million people have fallen ill to the disease, of whom, 774,720 have died.