June 18, 2020 / 10:15 AM / 22 days ago

WHO hopes for hundreds of millions of vaccine doses this year, 2 billion next year

GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization hopes hundreds of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccine can be produced this year and 2 billion doses by the end of 2021, chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said on Thursday.

The WHO is drawing up plans to help decide who should get the first doses once a vaccine is approved, she said.

Priority would be given to frontline workers such as medics, those who are vulnerable because of age or other illness, and those who work or live in high-transmission settings such as prisons and care homes.

“I’m hopeful, I’m optimistic. But vaccine development is a complex undertaking, it comes with a lot of uncertainty,” she said. “The good thing is, we have many vaccines and platforms so even if the first one fails, or the second ones fails, we shouldn’t lose hope, we shouldn’t give up.”

Around 10 potential vaccines are now undergoing trials in humans, in the hope that a shot to prevent infection can become available in coming months. Countries have already begun making deals with pharmaceutical companies to order doses, even before any vaccines have been proven to work.

Swaminathan described the ambition for hundreds of millions of doses this year as optimistic, and the hope for up to 2 billion doses of up to three different vaccines next year as a “big if”.

She added that genetic analysis data collected so far showed that the new coronavirus has not yet mutated in any ways that would alter the severity of the illness it causes.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Kate Kelland in London; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Nick Macfie

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