As more and more measures to fight the pandemic are taken by governments, the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have already started to be administered to populations, targeting as a priority the caregivers and the most vulnerable individuals. These vaccination campaigns should continue throughout the year in order to cover all the inhabitants. However, even doing so, WHO experts announced that herd immunity could not be achieved during 2021.
Scientists at the World Health Organization warned on Monday that mass vaccinations would not result in herd immunity to the coronavirus this year. England, meanwhile, has launched the first of its mass inoculation sites in major cities, making efforts to forestall the rapid spread of a new variant of the disease.
The pandemic has infected more than 90 million people worldwide and the death toll has exceeded 1.94 million since China confirmed the first death in the central city of Wuhan a year ago. China has largely brought the virus under control, but is tackling a number of local infections. More than half a million people were placed in lockdown in Beijing on Monday as the government imposed strict measures to eradicate several cases.
BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine: increased production
However, the number of infections is increasing across Europe, especially as Britain faces a new variant of the disease with higher infectious potential. Russia confirmed its first case of the British variant on Sunday. Coronavirus infections have also exploded across the hardest-hit country, the United States, where US President-elect Joe Biden publicly received his second dose of the vaccine.
German company BioNTech has said it could produce millions more doses of the vaccine than originally planned this year, pushing production forecasts from 1.3 billion to two billion. The announcement from BioNTech, which has partnered with US company Pfizer to produce the first vaccine approved in the West, has given a boost to countries struggling to deliver vaccines in sufficient numbers.
No collective immunity in 2021 according to the WHO
But the company also warned that COVID-19 is likely to become an endemic disease, and said vaccines should fight the emergence of new viral variants and a naturally waning immune response. Later Monday, WHO chief medical officer Soumya Swaminathan warned that it would take time to produce and administer enough doses of the vaccine to stop the spread of the virus.
” We will not achieve any level of population immunity or herd immunity in 2021 “, Stressing the need to maintain physical distance, hand washing and the wearing of masks to curb the pandemic. Britain, the first country to approve the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine, opened seven mass vaccination sites across England on Monday.
More severe restrictive measures taken around the world
India – with the second highest number of cases of the virus in the world – will begin administering vaccines to its 1.3 billion people from Saturday. Russian officials said Monday they would test a single-dose version of the country’s Sputnik V vaccine, as part of efforts to provide an interim solution to hard-hit countries.
South Africa, meanwhile, has closed its land borders for a month to counter an unprecedented resurgence of cases fueled by a new variant. Restrictions already in place, such as a ban on the sale of alcohol and large gatherings, and a nighttime curfew, remain. Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Monday that further lockdown was inevitable as the country suffered a record number of deaths and infections.
Lebanon has tightened its restrictions with a full 11-day lockdown and new travel restrictions. A team of 10 scientists from the WHO were preparing for a mission to China on Thursday to investigate the origins of the disease. She “will conduct a joint research cooperation on the origins of COVID-19 with Chinese scientists,” said the Beijing National Health Commission in a statement, without giving further details.
The visit comes more than a year after the start of the pandemic amid accusations that Beijing tried to thwart the investigation into the virus. The United States and Australia have launched international calls for an independent investigation, angering China.