The sheer difficulty developing an effective COVID-19 vaccine and inoculating enough people with it means the world might be looking two million deaths from the disease by this time in 2021.
This dire warning was made Friday by the World Health Organization (WHO), which strongly urged governments to work more closely together to prevent this horror from occurring. WHO data shows 980,031 deaths globally as of 5:14 p.m. CST Friday, as well as 32,110,656 confirmed cases since the pandemic began in December 2019 and 303,005 new cases.
"It's certainly unimaginable, but it's not impossible, because if we look at losing 1 million people in nine months and then we just look at the realities of getting vaccines out there in the next nine months, it's a big task for everyone involved," said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO's health emergencies program.
"The real question is: Are we prepared, collectively, to do what it takes to avoid that number?"
Dr. Ryan said the "time for action is now on every single aspect of this strategic approach. Not just test and trace, not just clinical care, not just social distancing, not just hygiene, not just masks, not just vaccines. Do it all. And unless we do it all, (two million deaths) are not only imaginable but unfortunately and sadly very likely."
Dr. Ryan's comments about collectively doing what it takes to prevent two million deaths were directed at the Trump administration, which has prevented the United States from joining the "Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX)" and at China, as well.
COVAX aims to develop, manufacture and equitably distribute a COVID-19 vaccine worldwide. It's working with vaccine manufacturers to protect the most vulnerable populations, such as older people and health care workers.
Organized by WHO and other partner organizations, COVAX has been coordinating global vaccine development since July. As of Friday, 159 countries have signaled their intent to join COVAX. The final count, however, might be well over 170 countries and economies, said Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior advisor to the WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanon-Ghebreyesus. There are 193 sovereign states that are members of the United Nations.
WHO's partners in COVAX are the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
The Trump administration has said it doesn't plan to join COVAX. Dr. Aylward revealed WHO remain "in discussion" with China, which also hasn't joined.
He said whether another million people die of COVID-19 doesn't depend on a vaccine.
"It's a function of whether or not we put the tools, approaches and knowledge we have today to work to save lives and prevent transmission," he noted.
"If we start thinking about it as a function of the vaccine, people will unnecessarily and unacceptably die as we wait for a vaccine. We should not be waiting."
On September 1, the Trump administration said it won't participate in COVAX. Instead, it will focus on Operation Warp Speed, the initiative to develop a vaccine and manufacture 300 million doses by January 2021.