The World Health Organization warned that vaccines were not a magic bullet for the coronavirus crisis, as Russia began vaccinating its high-risk workers on Saturday and other countries ready for similar programs.
The WHO warned of what it said was a false belief that the Covid-19 crisis is over with jabs on the horizon, almost a year after the start of the pandemic that has killed 1.5 million people worldwide.
“Vaccines do not correspond to zero Covid,” said WHO’s emergency director Michael Ryan, adding that not everyone will be able to receive it early next year.
“Vaccination will add a big, big, powerful tool to the toolkit we have. But in itself, they will not do the job.”
WHO Director – General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also warned of the “growing perception that the pandemic is over” with the virus still spreading rapidly, putting enormous pressure on hospitals and healthcare professionals.
Health officials in Moscow said they had opened 70 coronavirus vaccine centers in the Russian capital that would originally offer jabs for health, education and social workers.
The WHO’s caution came as the United States clocked a record number of Covid-19 cases for the second day in a row on Friday, with the country preparing for what US President-elect Joe Biden has called a “dark winter”.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a “universal face mask” indoors, and Biden said he would reduce his inauguration ceremony in January to mitigate the risk of the virus.
It comes as countries prepare for the approval and rollout of several vaccines that have been shown to be effective in trials.
Massive logistical efforts
The WHO says that 51 candidate vaccines are currently being tested on humans, of which 13 are reaching mass testing.
On Wednesday, Britain became the first Western country to approve a vaccination, from a Pfizer-BioNTech, for public use, and pressured other countries to quickly follow suit.
The United States is expected to give the green light later this month.
Belgium, France and Spain have said jabs will begin in January for the most vulnerable.
With the imminent arrival of vaccines that need to be stored at extremely low temperatures, US companies are preparing for a massive logistical effort to facilitate distribution.
Companies specializing in insulating containers are at war after Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine must be stored at -94 degrees Fahrenheit (-70 Celsius).
Meat processing giant Smithfield said it was ready to make the cold rooms at its slaughterhouses available for vaccination.
And the American logistics giant UPS produces 500 kilos of dry ice per hour in its depots and has developed portable freezers that can store the vaccines at temperatures down to -112 Fahrenheit.
Standing in the way of success is growing signs of vaccine skepticism, with misinformation and mistrust leading the public to accept vaccination.
In Russia, the research agency Levada recently found that only 36 percent of respondents were prepared to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Several notable figures have promised to receive the vaccine publicly in an attempt to build trust, including Biden, Tedros and former US Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
The United States registered 225,000 new infections on Friday – the second daily record in a row for the world’s most affected nation.
Biden said that the increasing number of cases meant that he would reduce his inauguration ceremony for January.
“We will follow science and the experts’ recommendations,” Biden told reporters.
Christmas tip is expected
More than 65 million people have been affected by Covid-19 globally, with the death toll exceeding 1.5 million since it first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of last year.
British medical chiefs said the arrival of a vaccine should ensure the death toll “significantly” early next year, but warned social mixing at Christmas could cause a further rise before then.
“In the spring, the effects of vaccination will begin to be felt to significantly reduce Covid’s admissions, attendance and deaths, but there are many weeks before we get to that stage,” they said.
Italy sees a dramatic resurgence of infections after largely losing a previous outbreak by implementing a strict lock-in, while Latin America and the Caribbean have seen an 18% increase in cases in one week.
Other countries are also revealing holiday restrictions, with Switzerland banning Christmas driving on the streets and Madrid canceling most New Year’s events in the city center.