Coronavirus: Vaccine could be approved in a year, says EU medicine agency

WHO says Covid-19 ‘may never go away’ as death toll nears 300,000

Dr Michael Ryan, the World Health Organisation's emergencies chief, says coronavirus could become "another endemic virus in our communities". Video: Reuters

The number of lives lost worldwide in the pandemic is nearing 300,000, according to Johns Hopkins University figures, with 297,197 deaths reported. There are 4,347,015 confirmed infections.

The true figures are likely to be significantly higher as a result of underreporting or differing definitions of what constitute

A vaccine to counter the new coronavirus could be approved in about a year in an “optimistic” scenario, a agency which approves medicines for the European Union said on Thursday.

As the world rushes to develop a vaccine, the European Union, hard hit by Covid-19, fears it may not have sufficient supplies, especially if a vaccine were developed in the United States or China.


The European Medicines Agency, in communication with 33 developers, was doing all it could to speed up the approval process, the EMA’s head of vaccines, Marco Cavaleri, said, but he was sceptical of claims any could be ready by September.

“For vaccines, since the development has to start from scratch . . . we might look from an optimistic side in a year from now, so beginning of 2021,” he told journalists.

He ruled out the possibility of skipping the third phase of a vaccine trial, which he said would be needed to be sure a vaccine was safe and effective.

The World Health Organisation has warned that coronavirus “may never go away” as its experts predicted that a global mental health crisis caused by the pandemic was looming. Photograoh: Spencer Platt /Getty Images

Dialogue and co-operation

The EMA is also looking at 115 different therapeutics, or treatments, for the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 300,000 deaths globally, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) data.

Mr Cavaleri said some of those therapeutics could be approved in Europe as early as this summer, but he did not specify which.

A leading EU lawmaker said the European Union should circumvent pharmaceutical companies’ intellectual property rights if a vaccine were developed outside the bloc, a new sign of EU fears of lagging behind in the global race.

“If a vaccine is first developed outside Europe, we must do everything possible to ensure that the vaccine is actually available to all countries,” said Peter Liese, who is a prominent member of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, the same as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s.

“We are counting on dialogue and co-operation, but we must also expect others to reject dialogue and cooperation. This is why we need a plan B”, said Liese.

The United States and China have been wary of supporting a global funding campaign promoted by the EU which raised $8 billion to research, manufacture and distribute a possible vaccine and treatments for COVID-19 this month.

Liese called on EU governments and the European Commission to consider a waiver under World Trade Organisation rules that allows states to produce generic drugs without the consent of the pharmaceutical companies that have first developed them and still own intellectual rights.

The EU has insisted that any coronavirus vaccine must be available fairly to all countries, after the British chief executive of French drugs company Sanofi said it was reserving the first shipments of its vaccine for the US.

“The vaccine against Covid-19 should be a global public good and its access needs to be equitable and universal,” said the European commission spokesman, Stefan de Keersmaecker.

Global mental health crisis

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that coronavirus “may never go away” as its experts predicted that a global mental health crisis caused by the pandemic was looming.

The global health body on Wednesday cautioned against trying to predict how long coronavirus would keep circulating, and called for a “massive effort” to overcome it.

“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,” said Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief.

“I think there are no promises in this and there are no dates. This disease may settle into a long problem, or it may not be,” he said.

A report by the WHO’s mental health department to the UN warned of another looming crisis: “The isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, the economic turmoil – they all cause or could cause psychological distress,” said the department’s director, Devora Kestel. She said the world could expect to see an upsurge in the severity of mental illness, including amongst children, young people and healthcare workers.

“The mental health and wellbeing of whole societies have been severely impacted by this crisis and are a priority to be addressed urgently,” she said.


Doctors in Italy have reported the first clear evidence of a link between Covid-19 and a rare but serious inflammatory disorder that has required some children to undergo life-saving treatment in intensive care units. The mysterious condition emerged last month when NHS bosses issued an alert to doctors after hospitals admitted a number of children with a mix of toxic shock and symptoms seen in an inflammatory disorder known as Kawasaki disease.

The British head of a French pharmaceutical company has caused an outcry by saying any vaccine discovered by his firm would initially be reserved for the United States. Paul Hudson, chief executive officer of Sanofi, told Bloomberg News that any vaccine invented by his firm would go to the US first since it had done the most to fund the company’s research.

France’s higher education minister, Frederique Vidal, said Sanofi’s plan to give the US priority access would be “incomprehensible and disgraceful” since a successful vaccine must be “a public good for the world”.

The European commission has said it is monitoring the Hungarian government over coronavirus laws that created a state of emergency with no end date. The commission, the body charged with upholding European Union law, said the absence of a clear time limit on the emergency decree raises “potential concerns as regards legal certainty”, while a media law criminalising the spreading of misinformation about the pandemic “may have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Hungary”.


Meanwhile, Russia became the nation with the second highest number of infections at 242,271, behind the US with just under 1.4 million. The official death toll in Russia is 2,212, although authorities ascribed the deaths of more than 60per cent of coronavirus patients in April to other causes. Moscow, the centre of the country's outbreak, accounted for 1,232 of those deaths. Tatyana Golikova, Russia's health minister, denied any falsification of the statistics.

In the US, president Donald Trump said warnings from his top infectious diseases expert on the dangers of lifting restrictions too soon were "not acceptable".

Mr Trump said he was “surprised” by Anthony Fauci’s caution on reopening the economy and schools too soon.

“To me it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools,” Trump said. “Our country has got to get back and it’s got to get back as soon as possible, and I don’t consider our country coming back if the schools are closed,” he said, adding that the only thing that would be acceptable would be professors or teachers “over a certain age” not holding classes.

Global infections

In South Korea, 24,000 people have been tested in relation to the Seoul nightclub cluster, which prompted the closure of bars and entertainment venues in the capital, according to the city's mayor. Cases linked to the cluster have grown to 120.

Japan was expected to lift the state of emergency for 39 of its 47 prefectures on Thursday, local media reported, while the capital Tokyo is set to keep restrictions in place until it sees a convincing containment of the coronavirus.

While the nation has avoided the kind of explosive growth seen elsewhere, its testing has also been among the lowest, at 188 tests per 100,000 people, versus 3,159 in Italy and 3,044 in Germany. Hardest-hit Tokyo has conducted just 50,000 tests so far, of which about 5,000 were positive. With hospitals still stretched, the capital and surrounding prefectures are set to remain in a state of emergency.


Brazil has registered a record number of new cases of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, surpassing France's tally to become the sixth-worst hit country, as the disease sends the economy toward its worst year since at least 1900.

The UK government confirmed 11,385 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing its total count to 188,974 cases of the coronavirus since the outbreak began. Early on Wednesday, France revised its total number of confirmed and suspected cases down 0.3 per cent to 177,700.

In other coronavirus developments:

China reported three new cases of Covid-19, all locally acquired, and no new deaths or suspected cases.

Stock markets in Asia reacted poorly to Powell and the WHO's comments and on a worries about a second wave of infections. Japan's Nikkei fell 07 per cent, while indexes in Australia, Hong Kong, Korea and China all fell about 1 per cent. But Australia reported an unemployment rate of 6.2 per cent, which was lower than expected.

Spain’s daily death toll report rose above 200 on Thursday for the first time since 8 May, the health ministry reported. The overall death toll from the disease rose to 27,321 on Thursday as 217 people reportedly died overnight, the ministry said, according to Reuters. The overall number of diagnosed cases rose to 229,540 on Thursday. The number of confirmed cases in Germany rose 933 on Thursday, a similar number to Wednesday, to stand at 172,239, according to the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases. The reported death toll rose by 89 to 7,723.

Hong Kong will screen hundreds of families, local media reported, after its 23-day run of no local infections was broken with the diagnosis of Covid-19 in a 66-year-old woman with no recent travel history, and her five-year-old granddaughter. Several other members of the family were reportedly also showing symptoms. – Agencies