The professor behind the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine has warned the current pandemic is far from over – and the next one could be far worse.
Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, whose team at the University of Oxford developed one of Australia's main vaccines in use, said the next pandemic to plague the world could be "more lethal" than Covid-19, which has so far killed more than five million people.
"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 as she delivered the annual Richard Dimbleby lecture.
She also warned the Covid-19 pandemic is "not done with us", with her address following the emergence of the Omicron variant.
And in line with the bosses of Pfizer and Moderna, Prof Dame Gilbert said current vaccines could prove to be less effective at preventing infection with Omicron.
"Until we know more, we should be cautious, and take steps to slow down the spread of this new variant," she warned.
Australia presses on despite Omicron
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stressed his desire to remain open following the emergence of the Omicron variant, and while implementing a two-week pause on the arrival of temporary visa holders and students and travel bubbles with Japan and South Korea, restrictions with significant economic impact will be reluctantly considered.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said he and his NSW counterpart Dominic Perrottet have rejected elimination of the Omicron variant, which, according to early data from South Africa, is highly transmissible.
But outspoken epidemiologist Dr Zoë Hyde from the University of Western Australia, who has long supported a Covid-zero strategy, believes the premiers are “dead wrong” in their approach.
“The Omicron variant has torn up the rule book and risks pushing us back to 2020,” she tweeted.
“We should stamp it out.”
The emergence of Omicron, and its rampant spread in several African nations, has prompted further warnings that wealthier nations need to do more to ensure the entire planet's population is vaccinated.
"Vaccinating the whole world is the only way forward," Mo Ibrahim, chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation said in a statement.
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS and Co-Chair of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, said the emergence of Omicron "should be a wake-up call".
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