Even if a vaccine is developed, it would need to be taken by a majority of people around the world to stop the virus.
(CN) — Worldwide deaths from the coronavirus pandemic surpassed 300,000 this week and despite the hopeful lifting of lockdowns in Europe and the United States, concerns are growing the virus may never be totally eradicated.
By Friday, globally more than 304,630 deaths and over 4.5 million cases of infection had been reported, a staggering toll for a pandemic showing no sign of letting up.
Spikes in cases are being registered in many parts of the world, and the virus is spreading rapidly in Central and South America. Brazil has become a new epicenter in the pandemic and Mexico is reporting a worrisome increase in infections.
In Brazil, 14,267 deaths have been attributed to Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. More than 206,000 Brazilians have contracted the virus, the sixth-highest amount in the world. Mexico, meanwhile, has reported more than 42,500 cases and 4,477 deaths.
On Wednesday, a top official at the World Health Organization warned the virus may never be totally defeated and it may become endemic.
“It is important to put this on the table: this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away,” Dr. Michael Ryan, the chief of emergencies at WHO, said during a briefing.
“I think it is important we are realistic and I don’t think anyone can predict when this disease will disappear,” he said. “I think there are no promises in this and there are no dates. This disease may settle into a long problem, or it may not be.”
Epidemiologists have been warning that a coronavirus may be very difficult to eliminate. There’s a chance the virus could mutate so much vaccines are ineffective. Even if a vaccine is developed, it would need to be taken by a majority of people around the world to stop the virus. Measles, for example, is a disease that hasn’t been eliminated even though there is a vaccine for it.
Scientists around the world are racing to develop a vaccine and the WHO is leading efforts to make sure eventual vaccines are affordable and distributed to as many people as possible. The global health agency repeatedly says that unless everyone is protected from the virus, no one is safe. More than 100 potential vaccines are under development, including several already in clinical trials.
“If we have a highly effective vaccine there may be a shot at eliminating this virus,” Ryan said. But he said it was going to be “a massive moonshot” even with a vaccine to defeat the virus completely.
During an online news briefing on Friday, the WHO announced a new initiative to get countries to share research, resources, medicines and vaccines to fight Covid-19.
“Researchers are working at breakneck speed to develop vaccines” and therapeutics, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the Geneva-based agency. “They will not end the pandemic if we cannot ensure equitable access to them.”
There are fears a race is underway between richer countries to corner the market on vaccines.
This week, a row broke out after the head of Sanofi, a French pharmaceutical giant, said it would give the United States a first shot at the vaccine it is developing, arguing that is only fair if the U.S. places the largest pre-order for the vaccine and helps fund its development.
French President Emmanuel Macron blasted Sanofi and said any Covid-19 vaccine must be treated as a “public good for the world, and not subject to the laws of the market.”
The company backtracked and said the comments of its chief executive office, Paul Hudson, had been taken out of context.
Macron is leading a WHO effort to ensure vaccines are affordable and distributed around the globe. The United States and China were notably absent when the initiative was launched by world leaders and Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft whose philanthropic foundation is funding vaccine development.
In urging global cooperation, Tedros said “traditional market models will not deliver at the scale to cover the entire globe.”
“Only with multilateralism, only with that kind of leadership, can we beat coronavirus, not with nationalism,” said Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, who is spearheading the new WHO initiative to create a repository for Covid-19 resources, studies and vaccines.
Meanwhile, the virus continues to spread around the globe.
Ryan said he was concerned about a rise in cases in war-torn parts of the Middle East, particularly Yemen, Syria and Iraq. He said the WHO was alarmed at a rise in infections in Yemen, where a bloody civil war rages and millions are struggling to survive due to famine and an outbreak of cholera. Ryan said WHO staff are delivering tests, training front-line workers and setting up intensive care units in Yemen.
The United Nations has called for a global ceasefire during the pandemic, but conflict continues to rage in countries like Libya, Afghanistan and Yemen.
“We need peace for health,” Ryan said.
WHO officials also warned that infections are cropping up in refugee camps in the Middle East and in dormitories where immigrant laborers live in close quarters.
Africa has not seen an explosive growth of cases, but Ryan said there have been spikes in infections in several African countries, including Gabon, Zambia and Chad. He said the disease’s trajectory in Africa is of concern.
Europe and the U.S., meanwhile, are far from over with their outbreaks too. Even as they lift lockdowns, European countries continue to report daily death counts in the hundreds.
On Friday, Italy registered 242 more deaths, bringing its total death toll to 31,610. The United Kingdom reported 384 new deaths for a total of 33,998 fatalities.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.