Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, said during a press briefing on Wednesday that healthcare workers, frontline workers, and the elderly will likely receive a vaccine first.
“Most people agree that it’s starting with healthcare workers and frontline workers, but even then you need to define which of them are at highest risk and then the elderly and so on,” she said.
“There will be a lot of guidance coming out, but I think an average person, a healthy young person might have to wait until 2022 to get a vaccine.”
She, however, warned that they will be available in “limited quantities” and won’t necessarily stop the months-long global pandemic in its tracks.
“People tend to think that on the first of January or the first of April, I’m going to get the vaccine, and then things will be back to normal,” she said. “It’s not going to work like that.”
To mollify such concerns, the WHO launched the $18 billion COVAX program to guarantee fair access to a viable vaccine, especially those in poorer, developing countries.
“We need to make sure that we vaccinate those most at risk in every country before we vaccinate everyone in a couple of countries,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the head of the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit.
“Part of that is not only due to the commitments of governments, but also the understanding of individuals saying, ‘I’m a younger person. I don’t have any underlying conditions. I may need to wait so my grandparents can get a vaccine.’”
One global survey has found that 74 percent of adults are willing to get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus when a vaccine becomes available to the public.
The results showed that China was the most enthusiastic country with 97 percent of respondents saying that they would get vaccinated, while Russia was the least willing with 54 percent.
Some medical experts, however, were concerned that the data revealed that about a quarter of the world’s population intend on not rolling up their sleeves for a vaccine.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.