The World Health Organization (WHO) regional office for the Western Pacific on Thursday called for greater vigilance amid the roll-out of coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, saying the vaccine is not a “silver bullet” that will end the nearly year-long pandemic which have already killed over 1.6 million.
“Whoever you are, wherever you live, as long as the virus is circulating somewhere, we all remain at risk, and we must keep preparing for the worst-case scenario,” WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Takeshi Kasai said in a virtual media briefing.
Kasai appealed to the younger and socially active people aged under 40 to “do everything you can to avoid infection for yourself and everybody around you” despite the anxiety and uncertainties brought about by the pandemic.
“By following the advice of health authorities you can directly contribute to protecting the lives of people in your community and in doing so to reviving your society’s economies in 2021,” Kasai said.
“I urge you to think about those who may be at high risk of severe COVID. If you catch the virus, you could unknowingly pass it on to your parents or grandparents, your neighbor or friend with an underlying condition,” Kasai said.
Moreover, he urged the young to “think of health workers who have been working day and night for almost a year. They are exhausted.”
Kasai also appealed to the governments across the region “to use an additional layer of surveillance that picks up an early sign of infection among those groups that are difficult to catch with the existing system.”
Kasai said the COVID-19 vaccines “are not a silver bullet that will end the pandemic in the near future.”
“The development of a safe and effective vaccine is one thing but producing them in adequate quantities and reaching everyone that needs them is another. They will initially only be available in limited quantities and high-risk groups should be prioritized first,” he said.
“This means that we are tired of this pandemic, we must stick to the actions and behavior which protect not only ourselves but also those around us. Hand washing, mask-wearing, physical distancing and avoiding places that have a high risk of transmission,” he added.
“For now we must keep making the choices that will reduce transmission of the virus and protect our families and our communities. By doing so we can go into 2021 with hope,” Kasai said.
Babatunde Olowokure, WHO regional emergency director, echoed Kasai, saying that “COVID-19 vaccine itself is not a silver bullet to end the COVID-19.”
“There is no room for complacency. So we must continue to remain vigilant, continue to comply with our public health interventions,” he said.
He further urged governments to “look at strategies” which could help younger population cope with public health interventions and to manage those appropriately.
There are now 985,539 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Western Pacific Region, including 18,641 deaths.