The scientist behind the Oxford COVID vaccine has urged the world to roll out a jab for the next pandemic virus – so-called Disease X – in just 100 days.
In an interview with Sky News, Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert said it took around 300 days from the identification of COVID-19 in China to the approval of the first vaccines by medical authorities.
But to prevent the catastrophic impact of a future pandemic the response needed to be far faster.
Being better prepared
“We are not talking about doing the same thing again and just doing it quicker,” she said.
“What we are talking about now is being much better prepared, so we don’t have to start from the same place next time.”
Professor Gilbert will join the director general of the World Health Organisation, the medical adviser to the US President Prof Anthony Fauci, pharmaceutical bosses and government representatives at the Global Pandemic Preparedness Summit in London.
The 100-day target was originally put forward by the UK government during its G7 presidency in June 2021, and backed by leaders of the G7 and G20.
Such a rapid response to COVID would have saved millions of lives and trillions of dollars around the world.
Scientists need to build library of vaccines
She said scientists need to build a library of vaccines against the families of viruses that are the biggest pandemic threats. That would mean at least 10 broadly-effective vaccines to start with.
“We would want to make the seed stocks (the reference sample of the virus) for a number of different vaccines,” she said.
“Then we would start doing clinical testing so we can look at the immune response for each of the different types of viruses to see if it is likely to be protective.
“We want to go as far as we can and then have a small stockpile of vaccine ready to use and the ability to ramp up manufacturing really quickly if there is then an outbreak.”
Coronavirus family remains a concern
The coronavirus family remains a significant concern because of its ability to spread rapidly between people.
Others, such as the Nipah virus, have a high fatality rate, but are so far much less transmissible.
Global death toll from COVID reaches six million
New study could lead to life-saving treatment for severe cases
There are significant challenges in producing a vaccine in just 100 days, including the availability of diagnostic tests and a faster way of gauging the effectiveness of a jab than traditional clinical trials.
Many more manufacturing sites, particularly in Africa, would be needed to speed up the rollout.
Professor Gilbert said: “We have learned a lot from COVID and we should now make sure we capitalise on that – see what worked well and what didn’t.
“We can go a lot faster.”
‘Making pandemics a thing of the past’
The summit is being co-hosted by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the UK government.
Dr Richard Hatchett, the head of CEPI said: “The Global Pandemic Preparedness Summit is an important milestone on our journey towards making pandemics a thing of the past.
“We have a window of opportunity to learn from the terrible experiences of the past two years and build a world that is prepared to tackle the next pandemic threat.”
The UK government has pledged £160m to kickstart what it calls the ‘100-Days Mission.’