WHO discussed research priorities for Covid-19 vaccines with 2800 scientists

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on January 16, 2021

The World Health Organization (WHO) convened a meeting on Friday, which was attended by over 2,800 scientists from 130 countries.

The meeting was called to identify knowledge gaps and set research priorities for vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, as per WHO’s official release.

The scientists discussed the safety and efficacy of existing vaccines and new candidates, ways to optimize limited supply, and the need for additional safety studies.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said in his opening remarks, “The development and approval of several safe and effective vaccines less than a year after this virus was isolated and sequenced is an astounding scientific accomplishment.”

He added, “The approval of the first few vaccines does not mean the job is done. Far from it. More vaccines are in the pipeline, which must be evaluated to ensure we have enough doses to vaccinate everyone.”

WHO maintained that more than 30 million vaccine doses have already been administered in 47 mostly high-income countries. However, the global vaccine rollout has exposed glaring inequalities in access to this life-saving tool.

“The spirit of collaboration has to prevail in these challenging times as we seek to understand this virus,” said Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

He added, “We have to be mindful of the inequalities and we must deliberately promote investment in regional capacities to level the playing field and have meaningful collaboration to begin to address some of the challenges.”

Health experts and scientists agreed on the need for critical research on administering vaccines in different target populations. This includes vaccination delivery strategies and schedules, modeling and observational studies, all of which would help to inform policy.

The experts further discussed the impact of emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants on the efficacy of vaccines, the impact of vaccines on the transmission of infection, and the need to develop the next generation of vaccine platforms.

Professor Mike Levine, Director of the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland said, “The world needs multiple vaccines that work in different populations in order to meet global demand and end the Covid-19 outbreak. Ideally, those will be single-dose vaccines that do not require cold chains, could be delivered without a needle and syringe, and are amenable to large-scale manufacture.”

The meeting concluded with an agreement to establish a WHO-hosted platform for global sharing and coordination of emerging vaccine research information on efficacy and safety.

WHO stated that it will help scientists with sharing and discussing their unpublished and published data and research protocols to further the collective understanding of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.

“The WHO will regularly convene experts from around the world, promote collaborative research, provide standard protocols and develop a platform for sharing the latest knowledge in the field,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Chief Scientist.

Published on January 16, 2021

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