Trust in vaccines vital to halting COVID-19 pandemic, says WHO

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As the world celebrates advances in vaccines against the novel coronavirus, a top WHO expert warned in an interview, that public distrust risked rendering even the most effective treatments useless against the pandemic.

“A vaccine that sits in a freezer or in a refrigerator or on a shelf and doesn’t get used is doing nothing to help shorten this pandemic,” said Kate O’Brien, director of the World Health Organization’s immunisation department.

US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced that their prospective vaccine had proven 90 percent effective in preventing Covid-19 infections in ongoing final phase trials involving more than 40,000 people.

O’Brien hailed the interim results as “extremely important”, and voiced hope that preliminary data from a handful of other candidate vaccines in similarly advanced trials would come through soon.

If the complete data show that “one or more of these vaccines has very, very substantial efficacy, that is really good news for putting another tool in the toolbox” for fighting the pandemic, she said.

But with the pandemic continuing to surge after already claiming some 1.3 million lives, she voiced deep concern at growing signs of vaccine hesitancy, with misinformation and mistrust colouring people’s acceptance of scientific advances.

“We are not going to be successful as a world in controlling the pandemic with the use of vaccines as one of the tools unless people are willing to get vaccinated,” O’Brien said.

More needed to be done to boost public “confidence in the fact that the vaccines that WHO is involved in evaluating, we will not be compromising on safety or efficacy,” she said.

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