Billions required to prevent next pandemic, warns epidemic expert

Governments must invest billions of dollars to prevent the next pandemic and begin constructing a library of vaccines for every single family of viruses, says the organisation charged with preparing the world for emerging infectious diseases.

Richard Hatchett, chief executive of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, said it could take as little as five years to create the vaccine bank that could be adapted when a threat was detected, to ensure the world could start vaccinating within 100 days.

Vaccine makers were able to deliver Covid-19 vaccines in record time partly because they were already developing jabs for Mers, another coronavirus. But Hatchett said that unless shots were prepared for other virus families, the world might not be as lucky next time.

“The core of the 100-day mission is built on this idea of looking at prototype viruses from the different viral families and doing as much of the work . . . in advance as possible. That’s a large but finite task,” he told the Financial Times ahead of a global pandemic preparedness summit next week in London.

The event comes as western countries ease restrictions to try to live with the virus and politicians are focused on the war in Ukraine.

Hatchett warned against “pandemic fatigue”, saying an outbreak was “not like a volcano where the eruption discharges the risk”. In fact, the increasingly interconnected world had created conditions ripe for disease outbreaks, including for other coronaviruses.

“Why would we take this to be the last [coronavirus]? We know there are other coronaviruses out there in the wild,” he said. “Some could be theoretically as infectious as Sars-Cov-2 and possibly with a mortality that is closer to Sars-Cov-1, or Mers. That would be truly terrifying.”

© Richard Cannon/FT

Hatchett said governments, business and citizens should think about protecting against pathogens like the world treated computer viruses. “We don’t think about computer threats as, ‘Oh, Stuxnet, it’s gone, we have the patch and we don’t need to worry about cyber security any more’,” he said, referring to the computer worm originally aimed at Iran’s nuclear facilities.