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COVID-19: Global health experts warn a life-saving coronavirus vaccine is still years away

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PARISTop health experts from around the world are mobilizing to combat the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 77,000 people worldwide. The global health threat posed by the coronavirus has kicked the world’s scientific community into overdrive as it races to develop a life-saving vaccine to fight the epidemic that has killed more than 2,300 people to date.

“It’s a kind of race, not against other scientists, but against the virus itself,” said Olivier Schwartz, the head of viruses and immunities at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. The institution was the first in Europe to isolate the strains of the coronavirus and sequence its genome after the virus emerged late last year in central China.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIAID), confirmed that a Phase 1 trial of a candidate vaccine would likely begin in early April, in an interview with ABC News. “Going into a Phase 1 trial does not mean you have a vaccine,” Fauci said. “It means you have taken the first step towards the vaccine, which by anybody’s calculation is going to be at least a year to a year and a half at best, and that is if we proceed under the emergency authorization of the regulatory agencies.” Institutions in China, the U.S., Europe and Australia are all working on a vaccine for the current outbreak of coronavirus disease that the World Health Organization has christened COVID-19.

Rachel Grant, the director of communications and advocacy at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), said in a statement to ABC News Friday that the organization was working with partners to deliver a vaccine for broader use within the next 12 to 18 months. The Norwegian association, which has an ongoing relationship with NIAID, has so far provided funding to Moderna, Inc. for the manufacturing of vaccine materials that will be used in the Phase 1 trials run by NIAID. “Of course, there are no guarantees of success,” Grant said. “Even to propose such a timeline at this point must be regarded as hugely aspirational.”

The new coronavirus has now spread to nearly 30 countries, most recently with a worrying surge in South Korea where the number of confirmed cases multiplied in days. The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Africa was announced last week in Egypt, raising concerns that the world may be moving closer to the verge of a pandemic.

“You could find yourself where you have a vaccine candidate in a year and half, a year and three quarters, but it takes another year to scale up to get enough doses to be meaningful to anyone,” Fauci said. Although the WHO has not yet designated the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic, that may soon change. In a press briefing on Friday, WHO officials warned that time was running out to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.  –ABC News

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