Story at a glance

  • Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization's health emergencies program, said a vaccine for the coronavirus is at least a year away.
  • Ryan urged countries to carry out widespread testing.
  • He said countries need to focus on finding those who are sick and isolate them, as well as those they have come into contact with.

A top expert with the World Health Organization (WHO) said it could take at least a year to develop a vaccine to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“I think we have to be realistic. Vaccines take a lot of time to develop, test, make them safe, prove they’re effective, then you need to produce enough vaccines for everybody,” Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, said on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. 

“We have to make sure that it’s absolutely safe… we are talking at least a year,” he said. 

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Ryan’s estimate of a new vaccine comes as health officials have been stressing for weeks that a vaccine for the novel coronavirus will not be ready for 12 to 18 months. 

Researchers last week administered the first shot in a trial for a potential vaccine at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. Several other vaccines are currently in development. 

Ryan went on to say that countries cannot simply lock down their societies to defeat the coronavirus. He urged countries to put in place strong measures, such as widespread testing, otherwise the disease will ramp up again once lockdowns are lifted. 

“If we don’t put in place the strong measures, the strong public health measures now, when those restrictions and those movement restrictions and lockdowns are lifted, the danger is the disease will jump back up,” Ryan said. 


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The WHO expert said efforts need to be focused on finding those who are sick and isolating them, as well as finding people they’ve made contact with as well.

Ryan said the examples of China, Singapore and South Korea, which coupled restrictions with measures to test every possible suspect, were models on how governments can take proper measures to contain the virus. 

Much of Europe and the U.S. have followed China and other Asian countries in restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus, with most workers being told to work from home and schools, bars and restaurants closing. 

“We need to actively search for cases of the virus, and we need to test every single suspect case, and if any contacts are sick we need to test them as well,” Ryan said. “We don’t need to test everybody, we need to focus on testing those who may have the virus.”

There are more than 360,000 coronavirus cases confirmed worldwide, and more than 16,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University


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Published on Mar 23, 2020