Boris Johnson: Coronavirus vaccine ‘might not come to fruition’

UK PM warns new ways to control COVID-19 must be used, such as mass testing and tracing contacts of infected people.

Coronavirus vaccine
Health experts say the world could be months, if not years, away from having a vaccine available [Ted S Warren/AP]

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says there might never be a vaccine for COVID-19 despite the huge global effort to develop one.

Johnson, who was hospitalised last month with a serious bout of coronavirus, speculated on Sunday that a vaccine may not be developed at all, despite the huge global effort to produce one.

Johnson wrote in the Mail on Sunday newspaper there remains a very long way to go, and I must be frank that a vaccine might not come to fruition”.

“We need to find new ways to control the virus,” including testing people who have symptoms and tracing contacts of those infected people, he said.

The British government is giving 93 million pounds ($110m) in funding to speed up the opening of the new Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre. Johnson said the UK is also supporting research into drug treatments to help people recover quickly from the virus.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the UK was home to two of the world’s “frontrunners to develop a vaccine”.

The projects, at Oxford University and Imperial College London, were making “good progress” at “unprecedented speed”, he said. But he warned “there are no certainties”.

“We may never find a successful coronavirus vaccine,” he said.

The British government relaxed some restrictions on outdoor activities in England last week and plans to continue easing rules over the next few months.

“I know this will not be easy – the first baby steps never are,” Johnson said.

‘Calculated risk’

Governments worldwide are struggling to restart economies blindsided by the pandemic. With 36 million newly unemployed in the United States alone, economic pressures are building even as authorities acknowledge that reopening risks setting off new waves of infections and deaths.

Pushed hard by Italy’s regional leaders and weeks in advance of an earlier timetable, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is allowing restaurants, bars and beach facilities to open from Monday, the same day that church services can resume and shops reopen.

Conte said Italy could “not afford to wait until a vaccine was developed. Health experts say the world could be months, if not years, away from having a vaccine available to everyone despite the scientific gold rush now on to create one.

“We are facing a calculated risk in the awareness … that the epidemiological curve could go back up,” Conte said on Saturday. “We are confronting this risk and we need to accept it, otherwise we would never be able to relaunch.”

Coronavirus has infected 4.6 million people and killed more than 312,000 worldwide, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts say undercounts the true toll of the pandemic. The US has reported 88,000 dead and Europe has seen at least 160,000 deaths.

‘Hard to judge’

In the US, many states have lifted stay-at home-orders and other restrictions, allowing some types of businesses to reopen.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said on Sunday a full US economic recovery may require a coronavirus vaccine, which may not happen until the end of 2022.

“In the long run and even in the medium run, you wouldn’t want to bet against the American economy. This economy will recover,” Powell said in an excerpt of an interview to be aired in full on CBS.

“It may take a while … It could stretch through the end of next year. We really don’t know,” he added. 

US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declined to criticise local leaders amid images of crowded bars and boardwalks in areas where coronavirus restrictions are being lifted.

Azar told CNN in an interview on Sunday: “The president has left it up to states to know their local situation the best,” and said it is therefore “very hard to judge in any community whether a bar being open, a restaurant, a school is the right thing”.

“I think in any individual instance you’re going to see people doing things that are irresponsible. That’s part of the freedom we have here in America,” said Azar.

Explosive spread

Dr Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned coronavirus can spread “explosively” if lockdown restrictions are lifted too quickly.

“That’s why we have to be so careful. We’re all tired of waiting at home. We want to get out. I want to get back to the gym. We want to get back to our lives,” Frieden said.

In Asia, China’s commercial hub of Shanghai announced a June 2 restart of classes for younger students amid falling virus cases. People in Thailand streamed on Sunday into shopping malls, which have been closed since March.

China’s airline regulator reported that flights had returned to 60 percent of pre-outbreak levels, exceeding 10,000 per day for the first time since February 1. No new deaths have been reported in a month in the world’s second-largest economy, where the coronavirus was first detected late last year.

China reported just five new cases on Sunday, while South Korea recorded 13, raising hopes that a new outbreak linked to nightclubs in Seoul may be waning, even though 168 patients have been infected so far.

Source: News Agencies