One of the lead creators of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has delivered a grim warning: it’s unlikely that COVID-19 will be the last virus to threaten our lifetime — and the next pandemic could prove to be both more contagious and more lethal.
Delivering the BBC's 44th prestigious Richard Dimbleby Lecture, Dame Sarah Gilbert said the world needs to ensure that we’re ready for the next pandemic and not lose sight of the important scientific insights we’ve gained while dealing with COVID-19.
"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,” Dame Sarah said, reports the BBC.
"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," she stated.
"The advances we have made, and the knowledge we have gained, must not be lost."
Professor Sarah Gilbert, Saïd Professor of Vaccinology at the University of Oxford's Jenner Institute, was recognized with a damehood in the Queen's Birthday Honours earlier this year for her pivotal role in developing a COVID-19 vaccine. Her work specializes in the development of vaccines against influenza, malaria, and emerging viral pathogens, so when news of SARS-CoV-2 started to emerge, it promptly consumed her attention. On New Year’s Day 2020, she read about four people in the Chinese city of Wuhan suffering from mysterious cases of pneumonia. Within two weeks, she and colleagues had designed a vaccine against the never-before-seen virus. Just under two years later, more than 2 billion doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have been released to more than 170 countries worldwide, with the majority of the doses being used in lower-income countries.
Dame Sarah is far from alone with her concerns regarding potential pandemics of the near future. While COVID-19 has been dubbed a "once-in-a-century pandemic" by some, many infectious disease epidemiologists believe that COVID-19 is unlikely to be the last significant disease outbreak of our times. Some also argue that not enough is being done to prevent and manage future diseases with pandemic potential to spring up and spread across the globe.
The full lecture will be broadcast in the UK on BBC One on Monday, December 6 at 10.35 pm GMT and will later be available on the BBC's streaming service iPlayer.