Another pandemic in the future could be “more lethal” than the present Covid-19 pandemic that has killed over 5 million people across the globe, one of the creators of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine said.
Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, delivering the 44th Richard Dimbleby Lecture, also warned that current set of vaccines being deployed across the world could be less effective against the newly discovered omicron variant of the coronavirus.
She said: “This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods. The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both.”
Dr Gilbert added that the scientific advances made in research against fighting deadly viruses “must not be lost”.
“The advances we have made, and the knowledge we have gained, must not be lost,” she said.
She added: “We cannot allow a situation where we have gone through all we have gone through, and then find that the enormous economic losses we have sustained mean that there is still no funding for pandemic preparedness.”
Dr Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, is credited with saving millions of lives through her role in designing the anti-Covid vaccine in record time.
With a decade of experience in the field of making vaccines, she initiated the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine project in early 2020 when Covid first emerged in China.
The AstraZeneca vaccine developed by her team is used in more than 170 countries. She received a damehood earlier this year for services to science and public health.
Amid concerns about the omicron variant, now discovered in 30 countries, she said the spike protein of this variant “contains mutations already known to increase transmissibility”.
“But 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. Until we know more, we should be cautious, and take steps to slow down the spread of this new variant,” she added.
In the wake of the new variant’s emergence, several countries including the UK and US have tightened their border restrictions and halted travel from South African countries, where omicron was first detected.
From Tuesday, all passengers arriving in Britain will be required to show proof of a negative RT-PCR or lateral flow test taken no earlier than 48 hours before departure.
The British government is also pushing people to come forward for a Covid-19 booster jab to increase protection levels as the country enters the winter season. Similarly, a report stated that nearly two-in-three housebound people are yet to receive their booster jabs.
The Daily Telegraph reported that an unpublished Whitehall analysis found that only 170,000 housebound people had received their dose of the vaccine by the end of last week.