The 43-year-old, who has become a familiar face having appeared alongside WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at press briefings for months, added that countries should not rely on a jab as a silver bullet to bring the raging pandemic to a close.
“In the next six months we will not have a vaccine,” she said frankly. “I know there’s a lot of work that’s being accelerated in terms of having a safe and effective vaccine, but we cannot wait until next year for one to come around.”
Instead Dr Van Kerkhove urged countries to make use of the tools currently available to adopt a “tailored, specific, localised” approach to contain new clusters of infections.
“The speed of the science on this has been extraordinary… we have tools right now that can prevent transmission and save lives,” Dr Van Kerkhove said, referencing measures including contacting tracing, widespread testing, equipping health facilities, physical distancing and wearing face masks.
“It isn’t one measure alone, all of the existing measures need to be used together. And it works. The reason we keep saying that it works is because we’ve seen this happen, we have seen countries bring these outbreaks under control,” she said.
It is now seven months since Dr Van Kerkhove – who has spent decades training as an epidemiologist, including stints at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Imperial College – received an email alert that a ‘pneumonia of unknown origin’ had been detected in Wuhan, China.