Herd immunity will not be achieved this year despite COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out in a number of countries, the World Health Organization has warned.
Last month, the United Kingdom became the first country in the world to start administrating its citizens with a fully trialled and tested COVID-19 vaccine.
Since then, more than 30 countries have rolled out their vaccination programmes.
“We are not going to achieve any levels of population immunity or herd immunity in 2021,” WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told a briefing in Geneva on Monday.
“Even if it happens in a couple of pockets in a few countries, it’s not going to protect people across the world.”
Swaminathan stressed the need for governments and people to continue to push forward and take measures like physical distancing, hand washing and mask wearing to rein in the pandemic.
She hailed the “incredible progress” made by scientists who managed the unthinkable of developing not one but several safe and effective vaccines against a brand new virus in less than a year.
But, she asserted, the roll-out “does take time”.
“It takes time to scale the production of doses, not just in the millions, but here we are talking about in the billions,” she pointed out, calling on people to “be a little bit patient”.
But as new variants of the coronavirus were discovered in the UK and South Africa, concerns are growing if vaccines currently being administered will be effective against the mutations.
On Monday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said scientists from several nations would be focusing on how COVID-19 first jumped to people.
“Studies will begin in Wuhan to identify the potential source of infection of the early cases,” Tedros said.
On Monday, China said the WHO team would arrive in the country on Thursday, but did not specify if its experts would travel to Wuhan where human cases of COVID-19 were first detected in 2019.
More than 90 million people have been diagnosed with the virus during the past year and many countries are now in the grip of escalating outbreaks. Nearly two million people have died.