Watch CBS News

Coronavirus "may never go away," World Health Organization warns

A top World Health Organization official warned Wednesday against trying to predict when COVID-19 will disappear. Instead, WHO Emergencies Director Dr. Mike Ryan said the novel coronavirus will be hard to wipe out completely.

According to John Hopkins University's latest data, more than 4.4 million people worldwide have been infected and nearly 300,000 have died from COVID-19. And the end of the virus may not be in sight anytime soon, Ryan said. 

"I think its 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," Ryan said. 

He brought up the fact that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is still around decades later, but therapies have allowed people with the virus to live "long, healthy lives."

"HIV has not gone away, but we have come to terms with the virus and we have found the therapies and we found the prevention methods and people don't feel as scared as they did before," he said. "And we're offering life to people with HIV. Long, healthy lives to people with HIV. And I'm not comparing the two diseases, but I think it is important that we should be realistic. And I don't think anyone can predict when or if this disease will disappear."

More than 100 potential coronavirus vaccines are in development, according to WHO.  Ryan expressed optimism on "eliminating this virus" if a vaccine is developed and distributed throughout the world. "That vaccine will have to be available, it'll have to be highly effective, it will have to be made available to everyone and we will have to use it," he said. 

But Ryan pointed out that the existence of a vaccine does not guarantee global protection. He mentioned that before the pandemic struck, medical teams were working with young children in Samoa who were on ventilators: The children gotten sick with measles and were not vaccinated against it, even though a safe and effective vaccine has existed for decades.

"Forgive me if I am cynical but we have perfectly effective vaccines on this planet that we have not used effectively for diseases we could eliminate and eradicate — and we haven't done it," he said.

Even with a vaccine, Ryan said every single step in combating the virus has its challenges, but overcoming them will serve as a window into countries working together down the road.

"It's a massive opportunity for the world," he said. "The idea that a new disease could emerge, cause a pandemic and we could with a massive moonshot find a vaccine and give that to everyone that needs it and stop this disease in its tracks will turn maybe what has been a tragic pandemic into a beacon of hope to the future of our planet in the way we care for our citizens." 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.