Young and healthy people should be prepared to wait more than a year to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, Soumya Swaminathan, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist, said Wednesday.
Many people are under the misconception that they’ll be able to get a vaccine in early 2021 “and then things will be back to normal,” Swaminathan said in a question-and-answer session broadcast on YouTube. In reality, she said, any vaccine that is ready next year will be available in limited quantities, with health-care workers and others on the front line having first priority, “and then the elderly and so on.”
“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 predicted.
By that point, mortality rates will hopefully have dropped and the most vulnerable people will be protected, Swaminathan said. Reiterating the WHO’s stance against allowing the virus to spread unchecked in an effort to reach herd immunity, she emphasized that the concept should be discussed only within the context of a vaccine.
“Once we have a vaccine, we can aim to have population immunity — herd immunity — because you’ll need to vaccinate at least 70 percent of people, have them protected, to really break the transmission,” she said.
More than 150 countries have joined the WHO’s Covax initiative, a cooperative arrangement in which nations combine forces to invest in vaccine development and also agree to allocate the first doses based on population and then by level of risk. The United States has not joined the program, meaning that the U.S. timeline for vaccine distribution may differ from the one laid out by the WHO.