No vaccine possible if virus mutates, says WHO special envoy on Covid-19

Dr David Nabarro, special envoy for WHO on Covid19 and someone who has over 40 years of experience in International public health, tells The Daily Guardian that Covid-19 is one amongst those dangerous viruses that can also mutate. Excerpts:

Q. Do you think Covid-19 will stay long and we all have to learn to live this virus?

A. We don’t think this virus is going to disappear; we think it’s going to stay as a threat to people. We all have to live with one possibility that the vaccine will be developed and that will enable everybody to become immune. Another possibility is a lot of people will get infected from the virus and perhaps they will develop immunity. But the fact is this virus is going to stay here for the foreseeable future.

Q. Any outcome from the reports on clinical trials by various companies worldwide?

A. Many companies are working in developing vaccines and there are exciting reports that a new vaccine is already being identified. After trails in animals we have to see that vaccine also works on humans and also to make sure that it is safe.

Q. How much time is required to get a new vaccine in the market?

A. It’s likely to take 18 months before one or more vaccine is seen to be effective. The process could be speeded up, but no country wants to be using vaccine that might have negative side-effects. Perhaps we should work on every possibility that the fully-vaccinated population in world will not be a reality in less than two-and-a-half years and so in the meantime we do have to learn to live with this virus as a continuous threat.

Q. Do you think when lockdown is lifted, then cases will increase?

A. Now within many countries there has been strong efforts to restrict movements of people to reduce the possibility of the virus getting transmitted from person to person. Once movement is restarted, then we can expect increase in numbers of people with Covid. And India may see increase of cases in some places as lockdown is released. But we also say that cases can be low if we have well-organised mechanism in society to identify the people with disease to isolate them, trace and care for those.

Q. How successful is a lockdown? What can be done if the government lifts lockdown or starts major activities? Your suggestions please.

A. Lockdown causes social and economic consequences, but it does reduce the likelihood of the virus being transmitted between people. As lockdown is released, then everything possible must be done to maintain physical distancing; and if people are falling ill with respiratory symptoms in particular, then we have to isolate them quickly.

Q. Do you think India has community spread in some places?

A. I do think there is a community spread in parts of India, particularly in urban centres. I think in other areas, there is no community spread.

Q. Do you think Covid-19 can mutate?

A. We do hope that the virus doesn’t mutate and change its form because if the vaccine is developed you want to be sure that it actually neutralises the virus. We also hope that any mutations, if they happen, do not make the virus more severe. The evidence which I have suggests that this virus will stay stable, but every virus has a capacity to mutate. I really appreciate the efforts being made by the Indian government, along with authorities at the state and district level. I also want to praise the efforts of the Indian people to get ahead of this virus to make sure that it doesn’t undermine their socio-economic and spirit.

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