We’re not through this one and already there are rumblings about the next pandemic. According to experts another is on the cards.
And they’re asking big questions – how can we detect it early enough to head it off?
What lessons have we learned from Covid-19 that will help us do better next time?
Sir Patrick Vallance, our chief scientific adviser, is always worth a listen and he has some pointers that could put us in a state of preparedness.
He believes Covid is gradually loosening its grip on us because of our world-beating vaccination rollout. In reaching this level of excellence we have already learned many lessons.
One of them is in terms of vaccines – we had a head start.
We had decades of research on how to make them.
We had plenty of experience doing clinical trials, collaborating on an international scale, and we’d tried to make vaccines for other coronavirus infections before – SARS and MERS.
To curb the threat of another pandemic we need surveillance to detect viruses quickly and take decisive action to contain them.
These are essential prerequisites.
Sir Patrick also believes we should “stock our arsenal” now.
He asks us to imagine: “If we’d had safe, effective and high-quality vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics available at scale within 100 days of a pandemic being declared, the world may have already been back to normal. This should be our aim for the future.”
The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response goes even further, with six recommendations including oxygen supplies, diagnostics and vaccines, and abiding by World Health Organisation regulations so lower income countries aren’t locked out.
Plus making sure there’s worldwide access to a Covid-19 Tool Accelerator and tools for controlling Covid are made permanent.
I like Sir Patrick’s idea of a war chest of options backed by strong research and funded by public-private partnerships.
We also need a culture change so new technologies and ways of working become embedded in everyday practices, then, in an emergency, the exceptional is already part of the routine.
There’ll have to be agreed guidelines on data sharing, supply chain, funding for research and development and technology sharing so time isn’t wasted.
We can’t prevent pandemics but, as Sir Patrick says: “We can work to ensure they never again cause such devastation. We must show humility and prepare, but recognise that we will be taken by surprise.
“Strengthening healthcare, public- health systems and having a world-class surveillance system are essential.”