While we are still coming to terms with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed millions of lives since 2019, scientists are already throwing in warnings for the future: the next pandemic may be far more lethal than COVID. That’s concerning, as the coronavirus has killed more than 6.5 million people worldwide and left millions of others with varied lifelong medical conditions. What’s more, it is still ongoing and mutating into strains that are prompting governments to enforce widespread lockdowns.
The science and other stuff to know
The revelation about the next potentially more lethal pandemic was made by Sarah Gilbert, one of the creators of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, BBC reported in 2021.
While delivering the 44th Richard Dimbleby Lecture, Gilbert said the world needed to be relentless in its preparation for the next pandemic, as it could be, in truth, “more contagious, or more lethal, or both”.
“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 said.
She maintained that more funding was needed for pandemic preparedness to prevent the advances made from being lost.
“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,” she added. “The advances we have made, and the knowledge we have gained, must not be lost.”
The continuous mutation of the coronavirus is certainly an indication of the tenacity of the virus. It has proven to be a shapeshifter that makes good its escape every time it is cornered by science. Professor Gilbert is absolutely right talking about preparedness as we never know when a disease decides to go full throttle and wipe out swathes of the human population and the world as we know it.
Take the case of mosquitoes. We always thought malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases prospered in filthy environments until we got to know about the dengue mosquito, which thrives in stagnant water, whether clean or filthy. And we still don’t have a vaccination for it. All we can do is be cautious.
The coronavirus had strengthened its grip all across the world and killed millions when the first vaccine was rolled out, so it should be a clear warning for governments, policymakers, and the human population that nature can reach an unfathomable velocity that is hard to keep up with.
Experts like Gilbert are urging policymakers and governments to ensure that the pace with which vaccines and medicines got developed and delivered during the pandemic becomes a norm. But as with most old habits that die hard, our tendency to forget and move on will likely stay the same.
The same is happening in the aftermath of COVID-19. We have stopped being cautious, stopped being careful, and disregarded the value of being safe. If Professor Gilbert’s words are to be believed, that is exactly what we need the most of.