Next pandemic could be more lethal than Covid, says Oxford vaccine inventor

One of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine designers says this won't be the last time a virus threatens lives

Prof Sarah Gilbert, one of the creators of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. PA
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Another pandemic will threaten human lives and could be more easily spread and deadlier, one of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine inventors has warned.

Prof Dame Sarah Gilbert, delivering the 44th prestigious Richard Dimbleby Lecture, said the scientific advances made in research for fighting deadly viruses “must not be lost”.

“This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods," Prof Gilbert said. "The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both.

“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.”

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 vaccine project in early 2020 when Covid-19 was first identified in China.

The vaccine developed by her team is used in more than 170 countries around the world.

The vaccinologist received a damehood this year for services to science and public health in coronavirus vaccine development.

On the Omicron variant, Prof Gilbert said: “The spike protein of this variant contains mutations already known to increase transmissibility of the virus.

“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.”

What are the symptoms of the Omicron variant?

What are the symptoms of the Omicron variant?

It was reported that nearly two in three house-bound people, including many at greatest risk from the virus, are yet to receive their booster jabs.

The Daily Telegraph reported that an unpublished Whitehall analysis found that only 170,000 house-bound people had received their dose of the vaccine by the end of last week out of an estimated 470,000.

But more than 60 per cent of the over 50s have received their booster.

There have also been warnings that GPs who delivered the first and second shots to the house-bound are now dropping out as they do not have the time or staff.

“Local NHS and GP teams are contacting their eligible housebound patients and we are working closely with St John Ambulance to give local areas additional support," an NHS spokesman said in response.

“We are also providing additional funding to help local teams secure additional staff so that all eligible housebound patients are offered a booster as quickly and safely as possible.”

The Richard Dimbleby lecture, named in honour of the late broadcaster, features influential speakers from academia, arts and business and the royal family.

Updated: December 06, 2021, 7:35 AM