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(LEAD) Vaccine won't end coronavirus pandemic right away: health experts

National 16:06 August 25, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with experts' remarks in last 5 paras)

SEOUL, Aug. 25 (Yonhap) -- The novel coronavirus pandemic will not end right away even with the development of a vaccine, and lockdowns will not help root out the virus in the long term, local health experts said Tuesday.

The country reported 280 new COVID-19 cases as of midnight Tuesday, with unknown infection routes straining the country's virus fight and stoking concerns over the possible second wave of the pandemic.

Since Aug. 14, new daily infections have been in triple digits, with most cases being centered on the greater Seoul area and more being reported across the nation.

"A vaccine is expected as early as next spring," said Oh Myoung-don, head of the country's central clinical committee for emerging disease control.

Oh Myoung-don, head of the country's central clinical committee for emerging disease control, speaks during a press conference on Aug. 25, 2020. (Yonhap)

Despite the medical community's high hopes that a vaccine is imminent, there is also skepticism that it may give people unrealistic expectations about how soon the world can return to normal.

"There is no guarantee on the effectiveness and safety of vaccines," said Oh, adding that a vaccine itself will not immediately end the current pandemic.

The coronavirus infects the upper respiratory tract, which is a hard area to target for a vaccine, as it is considered an external surface for the purposes of immunization.

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets the bar for COVID-19 vaccine approval at 50 percent," said Oh, adding that it is rather difficult to expect the 100 percent level.

A flare-up of COVID-19 cases in the country has spurred talks of enforcing the toughest social distancing restrictions.

The highest anti-virus curbs can be issued when the number of daily virus cases reaches a two-week average of 100-200 and the doubling of new COVID-19 cases occurs more than twice a week.

If the level is raised, its impact on the economy and people's daily lives could be severe. Gatherings of 10 or more people would be banned, and offline school classes would be suspended.

Oh, however, was cautious on commenting on elevating the level from the current second tier.

"Elevating the level will bring socioeconomic changes very broadly," said Oh, adding that the decision should be made through detailed discussions.

Seniors wearing face masks attend class amid the coronavirus pandemic, at Daedeok Girls High School in the southeastern port city of Busan on Aug. 25, 2020. (Yonhap)

The experts also noted that only remdesivir, an experimental drug conventionally used for Ebola, and dexamethasone, a widely used steroid, have shown treatment efficacy for COVID-19.

In June, South Korea's drug safety watchdog approved the use of remdesivir as a treatment drug for the new coronavirus, allowing for the drug's special importation.

The watchdog also authorized local hospitals to use the anti-inflammatory drug dexamethasone on critically ill patients, after the drug drew international attention for helping some COVID-19 patients.

The authorities also said it is unnecessary for young COVID-19 patients without prior chronic diseases to receive antiviral antibody treatment.

"We strongly advise antiviral antibody treatment be only provided to patients with previous diseases and who are of old age," Oh said.


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