Scientists at the UK’s Porton Down laboratory are developing vaccines as insurance against a possible future pandemic, Sky News reported.
The team of over 200 scientists at Porton Down drew up a list of animal viruses known to jump to humans that could potentially spread rapidly around the world. Since it is unknown which, if any, might trigger the next global pandemic, the scientists label their work as “Disease X” (AKA Disease Unknown).
UK Health Security Agency head Professor Jenny Harries told Sky News that what Porton Downs is doing will ensure that if a new pathogen emerges, much of the work will have already been done in advance to prepare for it.
While Harries hopes that another pandemic is prevented, she said if that isn’t possible and a response is needed, “then we have already started developing vaccines and therapeutics to crack it.”
Porton Down’s Vaccine Development and Evaluation Center, which originally focused on COVID and testing the vaccines’ effectiveness on new variants, has now been expanded to take on this new work.
Scientists are monitoring several high-risk pathogens, including hantavirus, monkeypox, and bird flu.
One early success was the development of the first vaccine against Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, a disease with a 30 percent fatality rate that is spread by ticks. The vaccine just began early-stage clinical trials.
According to Professor Harries, population shifts and climate change make another global pandemic more likely. She said urbanization has increased the risk of an animal virus like bird flu to jump quickly to humans.
Additionally, with climate change, diseases that are spread by ticks and mosquitoes are moving to areas where it was previously too cold for them to survive.
It is believed that bird flu is the most likely culprit of the next pandemic.
According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, at least 30,000 seabirds in the UK have died this summer as the virulent H5N1 has spread globally.
There has been some limited spread of H5N1 to mammals. Four people in the UK who work on poultry farms have tested positive for H5N1. However, the infections were mild.
The UK Health Security Agency said it is monitoring people who are in close contact with birds.