Scientists have warned a disease is on its way that is “as infectious as measles with the fatality rate of Ebola” and that preparations are at hand.
Medics are reportedly anxious that a new pandemic could be caused by an unknown virus, dubbed Disease X, and are developing vaccines already.
The Nottingham Post has reported that The World Health Organisation feels it “is more of a probability rather than possibility” that it will hit.
Work on a vaccine is being carried out at the government’s high-security Porton Down laboratory complex in Wiltshire, which is the UK Health and Security Agency’s (UKHSA) science and defence technology campus, by a team of more than 200 scientists.
Kate Bingham, a former chair of the UK vaccine taskforce, said: "In a sense, we got lucky with Covid-19, despite the fact that it caused 20 million or more deaths across the world”.
“The point is that the vast majority of people infected with the virus managed to recover,” she told the Mail Online.
Bingham added: "Imagine Disease X is as infectious as measles with the fatality rate of Ebola [67 per cent]. Somewhere in the world, it’s replicating, and sooner or later, somebody will start feeling sick.
"We need to take the first steps in dealing with the next pandemic right now — and that involves putting money on the table.”
What is Disease X?
Scientists are wary about the threat of a virus that could turn into another pandemic.
They have put together a threat list of animal viruses that are capable of infecting humans and could in future spread rapidly around the world. However, it isn’t known which of them will break through and trigger the next pandemic - this is why it has been referred to as “Disease X”.
Professor Dame Jenny Harries, the head of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), told Sky News: “What we’re trying to do here is ensure that we prepare so that if we have a new Disease X, a new pathogen, we have done as much of that work in advance as possible.
“Hopefully we can prevent it [a pandemic]. But if we can’t and we have to respond, then we have already started developing vaccines and therapeutics to crack it.”
Around the world, countries have pledged a total of $1.5 billion (£1.15 billion) to help scientists prepare for Disease X. The UK government has pledged £160 million ($210 million), alongside pledges from Japan, Germany, Australia, the United States and Norway as well as the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.
Will another pandemic happen?
In 2021, a leading scientist predicted that another pandemic-causing could potentially be around the corner and it is a matter of when, not if.
Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said that while pandemic flu is at the top of the list for outbreaks to be concerned about, there is a whole range of other viruses to be aware of.
Prof Woolhouse said that in 2017, he and some colleagues got the World Health Organisation to add something called Disease X to its list of priority diseases.
He explained: “We thought that the next emerging pandemic might be a virus that we don’t even know about yet – quite frankly we thought it was the most likely scenario.”
Speaking independently, he said: “You could use the phrase ‘it is when, not if’.
“We can’t put a handle on when, of course. The precise mechanism by which a virus comes out is always extremely unpredictable.
“You can never predict precise events, so you have to do it on sort of statistical grounds probability.”