"The acceleration of this process is really truly dramatic in terms of what we're able to do, building on work that started with SARS, that started with MERS and now is being used for COVID-19 ," Van Kerkhove said.
The vaccines are still a long way away from being available for public use, WHO officials cautioned. Leading scientists say the clinical trials and safety approvals needed to get a workable vaccine to market could take up to 18 months.
Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s emergencies program, said the trials are necessary. There’s only one thing more dangerous than a bad virus “and that’s a bad vaccine,” he said.
“We have to be very, very, very careful in developing any product that we’re going to inject into potentially most of the world’s population,” he said, adding that the first human trials on a vaccine that started this week in the U.S. were “unprecedented in speed.” He said that would have never happened if China and other countries hadn’t shared the genetic sequence of COVID-19 with the rest of the world.