The chief scientist of the WHO, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, warned on Friday that the concept of "herd immunity" or a large section of the population that develops antibodies to COVID-19 is still a long way off and can be accelerated by a vaccine.
In a live social media event organized by the World Health Organization in Geneva on Friday, the scientist said more waves of infection would be needed to reach a stage of natural immunity. So she warned that at least for the next year or so, the world must be "ready" to do anything to keep the novel corona virus at bay while scientists are working on vaccines.
In the meantime, therapeutics will help keep mortality rates low and enable people to continue with their lives.
"For this concept of herd immunity, you need 50 to 60 percent of the population to have this immunity to actually break these transmission chains," said Dr. Swaminathan.
"It's much easier with a vaccine. We can get there faster without people getting sick and dying. So it's much better to do so in order to achieve herd immunity from natural infections. We would have multiple waves (of) Infection) and unfortunately the mortality we see, "she said.
She added: "Over time, people will begin to develop natural immunity. We now know from studies conducted in many of the countries concerned that between 5 and 10 percent of the population would normally develop antibodies some places where it was higher up to 20 percent.
"Since there are waves of this infection in countries, people will develop antibodies and hopefully these people will be immune for some time and act as barriers and brakes for the spread of this infection," said Dr. Swaminathan, a pediatrician from India and a globally recognized researcher for tuberculosis and HIV, said.
The scientist, who addressed a number of issues related to coronavirus vaccines and therapeutics, said that it was important for the foreseeable future to focus on doing the "right thing", such as public health measures, by who are known to work while the world is waiting for a vaccine.
"Even if the clinical trials are successful and we have some vaccines by the end of this year, we still need hundreds of billions of doses, which will take some time," she said.
The chief scientist commented on the development of vaccines and said that over 200 candidates are in the development stage when she highlighted the extraordinary speed with which science has sought to understand the novel coronavirus.
"Vaccine development is usually a fairly lengthy and tedious process. The more candidates we have, the more chances we have of success," she said.
"Most people recovering from COVID-19 develop neutralizing antibodies, which means that a vaccine has a good chance of providing protective immunity," she said.
On the terrible prospect of never getting a vaccine against COVID-19, Dr. Swaminathan acknowledged that we need to consider the possibility of "learning to live with this virus".
"At the moment, it seems scary; what will we do if we don't have a vaccine? But it is possible that there is no 100% guarantee that we will have one. Let's hope we do. But we now know what action to take can we take to minimize the spread of this infection, such as keeping a distance, washing hands, breathing hygiene, and wearing masks? "she said.
Coronavirus has claimed more than 6.3 lakh lives with more than 15.5 million confirmed cases worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 tracker.