Mike Ryan, head of the WHO's emergencies programme, said it would be unwise to predict when a vaccine could be ready against Covid-19, the respiratory disease that has killed more than half a million people.

Blood samples from patients infected with the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) are prepared for analysis as part of the TACTIC-R trial, in the Blood Processing Lab in the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease, in Cambridge, Britain May 21, 2020.
Blood samples from patients infected with the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) are prepared for analysis as part of the TACTIC-R trial, in the Blood Processing Lab in the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease, in Cambridge, Britain May 21, 2020. (Reuters)

The World Health Organization (WHO) should soon get results from clinical trials it is conducting of drugs that might be effective in treating Covid-19 patients, its Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday.

"Nearly 5,500 patients in 39 countries have so far been recruited into the Solidarity trial," he told a news briefing, referring to clinical studies the UN agency is conducting. We expect interim results within the next two weeks," Ghebreyesus said.

The Solidarity Trial started out in five parts looking at possible treatment approaches to Covid-19: standard care; remdesivir; the anti-malaria drug touted by US President Donald Trump, hydroxychloroquine; the HIV drugs lopinavir/ritonavir; and lopanivir/ritonavir combined with interferon.

Earlier this month, it stopped the arm testing hydroxychloroquine, after studies indicated it showed no benefit in those who have the disease, but more work is still needed to see whether it may be effective as a preventative medicine.

Mike Ryan, head of the WHO's emergencies programme, said it would be unwise to predict when a vaccine could be ready against Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus that has killed more than half a million people.

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Effectiveness of vaccine

While a vaccine candidate might show its effectiveness by year's end, the question was how soon it could be mass produced, he told the UN journalists' association ACANU in Geneva.

There is no proven vaccine against the disease now, while 18 potential candidates are being tested on humans.

WHO officials defended their response to the virus that emerged in China last year, saying they had been driven by the science as it developed.

Ryan said what he regretted was that global supply chains had broken, depriving medical staff of protective equipment.

"I regret that there wasn't fair, accessible access to Covid tools. I regret that some countries had more than others, and I regret that front-line workers died because of (that)," he said.

He urged countries to get on with identifying new clusters of cases, tracking down infected people and isolating them to help break the transmission chain.

"People who sit around coffee tables and speculate and talk (about transmission) don't achieve anything. People who go after the virus achieve things," he said.

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First alerted to virus by office, not China - WHO

WHO has updated its account of the early stages of the Covid-19 crisis to say it was alerted by its own office in China, and not by China itself, to the first pneumonia cases in Wuhan.

The UN health body has been accused by US President Donald Trump of failing to provide the information needed to stem the pandemic and being complacent towards Beijing, charges it denies.

On April 9, WHO published an initial timeline of its communications, partly in response to criticism of its early response to the outbreak that has now claimed more than 521,000 lives worldwide.

In that chronology, WHO had said only that the Wuhan municipal health commission in the province of Hubei had on December 31 reported cases of pneumonia. The UN health agency did not, however, specify who had notified it.

WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference on April 20 the first report had come from China, without specifying whether the report had been sent by Chinese authorities or another source.

But a new chronology, published this week by the Geneva-based institution, offers a more detailed version of events.

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It indicates that it was the WHO office in China that on December 31 notified its regional point of contact of a case of "viral pneumonia" after having found a declaration for the media on a Wuhan health commission website on the issue.

The same day, WHO's epidemic information service picked up another news report transmitted by the international epidemiological surveillance network ProMed – based in the United States -- about the same group of cases of pneumonia from unknown causes in Wuhan.

After which, WHO asked the Chinese authorities on two occasions, on January 1 and January 2, for information about these cases, which they provided on January 3.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies