Coronavirus could “burn out naturally before any vaccine is developed”, according to a former World Health Organisation chief.
“We are seeing a roughly similar pattern everywhere – I suspect we have more immunity than estimated,” Professor Karol Sikora, who previously directed the WHO’s cancer programme, said on Saturday.
“We need to keep slowing the virus, but it could be petering out by itself. It is my opinion that this is a feasible scenario.”
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His hopeful comments come days after a new study in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, using local authority “R” transmission rate data, estimated some 19 million people are “likely” to have already contracted the virus in the UK.
Epidemiologists’ efforts to surmise and monitor the true spread of the virus have been hindered by the government’s decision to abandon widespread testing and contact-tracing in mid-March.
While hopes for a return to what ministers have dubbed a “new normal” are pinned to the development of extensive testing and contact-tracing programmes, many have suggested that a full return to pre-outbreak freedoms will only be truly possible with the advent of a vaccine.
Boris Johnson last weekend stressed that the “only feasible long-term solution lies with a vaccine or drug-based treatment”, which he said may be more than a year away, admitting: “In a worst-case scenario, we may never find a vaccine.”
Recent polling by Opinium suggests the public are similarly pinning their hopes on a vaccine. Researchers found more than a quarter of UK respondents said they would not feel comfortable taking public transport until a vaccine is found.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has previously said that the government is “throwing everything” at finding a vaccine, and two leading development projects at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London have received at least £42.5m to support their vaccine trials.
Oxford’s Professor Sir John Bell, a member of the government’s coronavirus taskforce, revealed this week that the initial results could be ready by June. The team hope to produce one million doses of the resulting vaccine by September, if successful.
Writing on Twitter, Prof Sikora – who is currently chief medical officer at Rutherford Health – caveated his hopeful comments with the statement: “Nobody is claiming to know what will happen for sure – I believe in an unknown situation this is a possibility.
“We need to continue to keep our distance and hope the numbers continue to improve.”