The World Health Organization says it does not expect widespread immunisation against Covid-19 until mid-2021, despite growing expectations in the United States, the worst-hit nation, that a vaccine could be released within weeks.

The Geneva-based WHO also insisted it would never endorse a vaccine that has not proven safe and effective, amid concerns over the rush to develop a jab for Covid-19.

The disease has killed nearly 870,000 people and infected more than 26 million others worldwide as well as upended hundreds of millions of lives and wreaked havoc on the global economy.

The UN health agency welcomed the fact that a “considerable number” of vaccine candidates had entered final stage trials, which typically involve tens of thousands of people.

But “in terms of realistic timelines, we are really not expecting to see widespread vaccination until the middle of next year,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said.

‘Trials too small’
Russia has already approved a vaccine, and research published in The Lancet medical journal on Friday said patients involved in early tests developed antibodies with “no serious adverse events”.

But scientists cautioned the trials were too small — just 76 participants — to prove safety and effectiveness.

Washington has also urged US states to get ready for a potential vaccine rollout by November 1, sparking concerns President Donald Trump’s administration is rushing to begin distributing a vaccine ahead of the November 3 election.

The United States has suffered the largest number of deaths and infections of any country in the world.

Under normal procedures, test administrators must wait for months or years to verify that vaccine candidates are safe and effective.

But there has been massive pressure to roll out a vaccine quickly as the pandemic continues to take its toll.

AFP