A NEW pandemic could be more lethal and spreadable than Covid, warns a top scientist.
Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, one of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine inventors, said the world should not forget about the threat of a fresh deadly outbreak once the current pandemic ends.
Dame Sarah, delivering the 44th prestigious Richard Dimbleby Lecture, said the scientific advances made in research against fighting deadly viruses “must not be lost”.
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.”
She went on to say: “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.
“The advances we have made, and the knowledge we have gained, must not be lost.
“Just as we invest in armed forces and intelligence and diplomacy to defend against wars, we must invest in people, research, manufacturing and institutions to defend against pandemics.”
The Oxford professor is credited with saving millions of lives through her role in designing the coronavirus vaccine.
She has been making and testing vaccines for more than 10 years, mainly using antigens from malaria and influenza, and initiated the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine project in early 2020 when Covid first emerged in China.
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The vaccine developed by her team is used in more than 170 countries around the world.
The vaccinologist received a damehood earlier this year for services to science and public health in Covid vaccine development.
It comes as news emerged of hospital wards in South Africa filling up with sick kids that have Covid as the “super mutant” Omicron strain continues to sweep through the country.
Speaking about the Omicron variant, Dame Sarah added: “The spike protein of this variant contains mutations already known to increase the transmissibility of the virus.
The truth is, the next one could be worse… it could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both
Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert
“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.
“But as we have seen before, reduced protection against infection and mild disease does not necessarily mean reduced protection against severe disease and death.”
The lecture, named in honour of the late broadcaster, Richard Dimbleby, features influential speakers from academia, arts and business and the royal family.
It will be broadcast on BBC One and iPlayer on Monday at 10.35pm.
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