Make a vaccine in 100 days: drugmakers embrace plan for next pandemic

Proposal announced at meeting of G7 health ministers

Margaret Keenan (C), 90, is applauded by staff as she returns to her ward after becoming the first person to receive the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine at University Hospital in Coventry, central England, on December 8, 2020. - Britain on December 8 hailed a turning point in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, as it begins the biggest vaccination programme in the country's history with a new Covid-19 jab. (Photo by Jacob King / POOL / AFP)
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Scientists want to make a vaccine in 100 days the next time there a new pandemic arises.

Vaccines against Covid-19 were trialled and approved in record time after the coronavirus spread around the world last year.

But a proposal embraced by drugmakers and the UK government after talks between G7 health ministers this week seeks to cut down the time even further.

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This would involve vaccines and other drugs being partially developed before a new virus emerges.

“The first 100 days in a pandemic are crucial to changing the course of a disease,” said the UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

“Given the extent of the social, economic and health impacts caused by Covid-19, the 100 Days Mission is rightly ambitious and sets a goal for us to which we can all aspire.”

US President Joe Biden’s science adviser Eric Lander floated the 100-day plan in an interview before this week’s G7 meeting.

Pointing out that this would have meant a Covid vaccine being available in April 2020, he said: “It’s totally feasible to do that."

In fact, it was on December 2 when the Pfizer vaccine was given the green light in Britain and became the first fully tested shot to be approved for mass vaccination.

This was 326 days after scientists first published the genetic sequence of the coronavirus on January 11, 2020.

The rampant spread of the disease has caused millions of deaths and devastated economies because of drastic, government-imposed lockdowns.

The UK government said drugmakers including Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca had signed up to the 100 Days Mission.

They will work with governments on planning for the next pandemic and how they can rapidly produce vaccines.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) welcomed the commitment.

“Achieving the 100 days could save millions of lives and trillions of dollars should we face another pandemic threat,” it said.

“It is an ambitious objective, but it is what we must achieve if we are to control and contain future outbreaks.”

G7 leaders will hear proposals on preparing for future pandemics when they gather in Britain for next week’s summit.

Mr Vallance and philanthropist Melinda Gates are expected to present recommendations to leaders including Mr Biden.

Before the health ministers’ conference, Britain called for stepped-up efforts to monitor animals and their health to prevent new diseases from emerging.

Scientists say that protecting wildlife and biodiversity can help to avert the threat of a future virus jumping from animals to humans.

The G7 ministers also called for global standards for testing and vaccine certificates.

The travel industry is demanding a universal certificate to prevent Covid checks causing massive delays at airports.

"We are committed to work as G7 countries towards a process of mutual acceptance of Covid-19 certificates," a joint statement from the ministers said.