The World Health Organization's emergencies program director said Wednesday that vaccines alone would not end the COVID-19 pandemic and would do nothing to stop the current global surge in coronavirus infections.
Mike Ryan made the comments during a virtual question-and-answer session from the agency’s headquarters in Geneva.
His comments came the same day that pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced that final results from the late-stage trial of their COVID-19 vaccine showed it was 95% effective.
The companies said they had the required two months of safety data and would apply for emergency U.S. authorization within days.
On Monday, Moderna released preliminary data for its vaccine, showing similar effectiveness.
Ryan said the world would have to get through this current wave of COVID-19 infections without vaccines, which he said were not the total answer.
"Some people think that vaccines will be, in a sense, the solution, the unicorn we've all been chasing. It's not," he said.
He said the most important thing people could do now to keep hospitals and intensive care units from overflowing was to stop the spread of the disease through physical distancing measures. Once a viable vaccine is widely available, he said, it will be another tool that can be used.
"Adding vaccines is going to give us a huge chance. But if we add vaccines and forget the other things, COVID does not go to zero," Ryan said. “We need to add vaccination to the existing physical measures" to taking care and practicing good hygiene. "And if we add that physical distancing and hygiene and care to vaccines, I think we will go a long way to getting rid of this virus."