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WHO’s chief scientist: COVID-19 pandemic could be uncontrollable for the next 5 years

WHO’s chief scientist: COVID-19 pandemic could be uncontrollable for the next 5 years
World Health Organization Chief Scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan. [Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images]

The World Health Organization’s chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, has warned that there may be no quick end to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite assertions from governments that a vaccine could be available in as little as 12 months. As CNBC reports, speaking at The Financial Times‘ Global Boardroom webinar on Wednesday, Swaminathan said, “I would say in a four- to five-year time frame, we could be looking at controlling this.”

Her comments will come as a disappointment for those who are hoping worrying about the virus could be a thing of the past by as soon as next year. Swaminathan said a number of factors impact the timeline in which we can control the virus, including containment measures, if and how the virus mutates, and, of course, whether we discover a vaccine.

She noted that while a vaccine is the “best way out,” there are a large number of uncertainties that could prolong the time it takes to put a dent into the virus’s spread. Finding a vaccine is just the first step. The logistics of making enough of the vaccine and distributing it to over 7 billion people on the planet is a monumental task.

Swaminathan isn’t the only WHO official who cautioned about thinking that the pandemic could have a short run. At a separate event yesterday, executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program, Dr. Mike Ryan, warned COVID-19 “may never go away.” Speaking at WHO’s Geneva headquarters, Ryan said:

It is important to put this on the table: This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away . . . I think it is important we are realistic and I don’t think anyone can predict when this disease will disappear.

To date, the virus has infected over 4.3 million people with confirmed deaths surpassing almost 300,000. Despite those numbers, Ryan noted that the “current number of people in our population who’ve been infected is actually relatively low.” In other words, the virus has billions of more people it can infect—and plenty of time to do it.

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