The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that re-infection may still be likely even after people are vaccinated and it would not alone end the global pandemic.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said although vaccines in progress had offered “light at the end of the tunnel”, coronavirus still had a long way to run.
Dr Tedros appealed for an immediate injection of $US4.3 billion ($5.78 billion) into a world vaccine-sharing program to prevent poor and marginalised being “trampled by the rich and powerful in the stampede for vaccines”.
Meanwhile United Nations officials have warned that 2021 was shaping up to be a “catastrophic” year and the worst since the UN started in 1975, with economies impacted by COVID measures and famine in several countries adding to the burden.
It comes as the USA was recording two coronavirus deaths a minute and again broke records for infections and fatalities.
President-elect Joe Biden has promised to invoke a mask mandate in federal spaces and promote 100 days of mask-wearing when he takes office.
As the UK received its first doses of the Pfizer vaccine to begin inoculations next week, Dr Tedros said the WHO was concerned people had become complacent about the pandemic.
“Progress on vaccines gives us all a lift and we can now start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, WHO is concerned that there is a growing perception that the COVID-19 pandemic is over,” he said.
Dr Tedros said the pandemic still had a long way to run and decisions made by citizens and governments would determine its course in the short run and when the pandemic would ultimately end.
“We know it’s been a hard year and people are tired, but in hospitals that are running at or over capacity it’s the hardest it can possibly be,” he said.
The WHO’s top emergency expert Mike Ryan said vaccines would not on their own end the pandemic.
“We are … seeing data emerge that protection may not be lifelong and therefore re-infections may occur,” Mr Ryan said.
“Vaccines do not equal zero COVID.”
America mask mandate
US leaders have urgently called on Americans to wear masks after coronavirus deaths set a single-day record, with two people dying every minute.
More than 213,830 new cases and 2861 deaths were reported on Thursday (local time), according to a Reuters tally of official data.
With US COVID-19 hospitalisations also at record levels, several experts project the death toll will soon surpass 3000 per day.
President-elect Joe Biden promised a new national strategy that will impose mask mandates where he will have authority, such as federal buildings and for interstate travel, once he takes over for departing President Donald Trump on January 20.
Beyond the mandate, he urged people to voluntarily wear masks, seeking to counter lax public discipline to date and Mr Trump’s own timid endorsement of mask-wearing.
“On the first day I’m inaugurated … I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask, just 100 days to mask, not forever, 100 days,” Mr Biden told CNN.
“And I think we’ll see a significant reduction if we incur that – if that occurs, with vaccinations and masking, to drive down the numbers considerably.”
Two promising vaccines could soon receive emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration, and some 20 million Americans could be vaccinated this year, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said on Friday.
Mr Biden said he would be happy to get vaccinated publicly, as former presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama have pledged, in order to boost public confidence and persuade vaccine sceptics.
Other public figures have followed, including best-selling novelist Stephen King.
“As a kid of 5 or 6, I lined up with other little people to get the Polio Vaccine. As a man of 73, I’ll line up for the Covid Vaccine as soon as I’m told it’s time,” King said on Twitter.