KEY POINTS

  • The U.S. government is funding efforts by Sanofi and Johnson & Johnson to develop a Covid-19 vaccine
  • WHO admits developing this vaccine might take up to 18 months
  • There is no approved vaccine or treatment for novel coronavirus infections such as Covid-19

The global death toll from the persistent coronavirus outbreak ravaging China topped 2,000 on Tuesday, adding another horrific milestone to this highly-contagious disease some doctors still fear might trigger the next global pandemic.

The unabated threat from Covid-19 is spurring the United States to accelerate its search for a vaccine to mitigate the disease's rapid spread. This, despite the World Health Organization (WHO) last week saying a vaccine for COVID-19 might take as long as 18 months to develop.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Tuesday said it will provide funding to French multinational pharmaceutical company, Sanofi S.A. to develop a coronavirus vaccine candidate. It also said it's partnering with Janssen Research and Development (JRD), a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development to also develop a vaccine.

HHS said its Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) will provide “expertise and reallocated funds” to support the vaccine’s development. Sanofi previously worked to develop a vaccine for SARS, another type of coronavirus, which sparked a disease outbreak from 2002 to 2003 centered in Hong Kong. JRD will also determine if previously tested medicines can be used to help Covid-19 patients survive the infection and reduce the severity of disease from the virus in non-lethal cases.

“Using this proven technology (of Sanofi), we can pivot immediately to address this new global health threat," said BARDA director Rick Bright. "Our goal is a licensed vaccine to provide long-term health security against this latest virus and prevent future coronavirus outbreaks."

Health experts concur there is currently no approved vaccine, treatment or diagnostics for novel coronavirus infections such as Covid-19. Nevertheless, the global medical and scientific communities are scrambling to develop a vaccine as the number of cases in China skyrockets.

Nearly 72,500 people have been infected by the outbreak of the new coronavirus in China, which has claimed the lives of more than 1,800 people Nearly 72,500 people have been infected by the outbreak of the new coronavirus in China, which has claimed the lives of more than 1,800 people Photo: AFP / STR

China reports 75,122 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 2,005 deaths worldwide as of 6:41 a.m. Wednesday, Hong Kong time, according to its National Health Commission (NHC). China alone accounts for 74,129 cases and 2,000 deaths. In addition, NHC claims 12,624 persons have recovered from the pneumonia-like illness.

A day earlier, the global casualty count as of 1:15 a.m., Tuesday, Hong Kong time, stood at 73,433 confirmed cases (of which 72,436 are in mainland China) with 1,873 deaths (of which 1,868 are in mainland China). 

There have been five deaths from the disease outside mainland China. One person has each died in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan, France and the Republic of China (Taiwan). The death in Taiwan was reported Saturday.

These awful statistics still confirming the rapid transmissibility of Covid-19 is lending impetus to efforts in the United States and elsewhere to quickly develop a vaccine to counter the disease's rapid spread. Scientists are fighting against time, however, since it normally takes up to 18 months before a new vaccine is approved for public use.