WHO official: COVID-19 vaccines 'potentially game-changing'

The head of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) European operations on Thursday hailed the various coronavirus vaccines in the pipeline as a “potentially game-changing” development.

“The more candidates we have, the more opportunities for success,” European director Hans Kluge said in a news briefing Thursday, according to Reuters. “Vaccines, combined with other public health measures, bring the end of an acute phase of the pandemic and the rebuilding of economies within reach.”

On Wednesday, the U.K. issued an emergency authorization to Pfizer and German firm BioNTech’s vaccine, the first nation to do so. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is set to consider the drug for an emergency use authorization next week, while similar approval from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is also pending.


Kluge said it would be at individual countries’ discretion who takes priority to receive the vaccine. Most countries have indicated the initial doses will go to health care workers and at-risk groups such as the elderly.

Kluge noted that it was still incumbent on individuals and government officials to work to contain and mitigate the virus before vaccines become widely available.

“[T]he virus still has the potential to do enormous damage unless we do everything in our power to stop its spread,” he said, according to The Associated Press, adding “it is imperative that we continue to practice basic protective behaviors such as mask-wearing” during the period when supplies are limited.

Siddhartha Datta, the WHO’s program manager for vaccine preventable diseases, said the EMA and the WHO have asked Britain to share the data that formed the basis for its approval.

“This decision is a big decision by any of the national regulatory authorities, because it will instill trust in the system,” Datta said, according to Reuters. “It’s extremely important that this process is robust, the process is based on evidence and a decision is being made and shared in a transparent mode.”