Future pandemics could be even more lethal than COVID-19 so the lessons learned from this outbreak must not be squandered, Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, one of the creators of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has said.
The novel coronavirus has killed 5.26m people across the world, according to Johns Hopkins University, wiped out trillions of dollars in economic output and turned life upside down for billions of people.
“The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both,” Gilbert said in the Richard Dimbleby Lecture, the BBC reported. “This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods.”
Gilbert – who was recognised with a damehood in the Queen's Birthday Honours earlier this year – began designing a coronavirus vaccine in early 2020 when COVID first emerged in China.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca jab is now the most widely used around the world, with doses sent to more than 170 countries.
The lecture, named after the late broadcaster, Richard Dimbleby, features influential speakers from academia, arts and business and the Royal Family.
Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said the world should make sure it is better prepared for the next virus.
“The advances we have made, and the knowledge we have gained, must not be lost," she said.
Efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic have been uneven and fragmented, marked by limited access to vaccines in low-income countries while the “healthy and wealthy” in rich countries get boosters, health experts say.
Reuters reports that a panel of health experts set up by the World Health Organization to review the handling of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has called for permanent funding and greater ability to investigate pandemics through a new treaty. One proposal was for new financing of at least $10bn a year for pandemic preparedness.
Gilbert said the Omicron variant’s spike protein contained mutations known to increase the transmissibility of the virus. “There are additional changes that may mean antibodies induced by the vaccines, or by infection with other variants, may be less effective at preventing infection with Omicron,” she said. “Until we know more, we should be cautious, and take steps to slow down the spread of this new variant.”
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