With the emergence of the new Omicron variant bringing into question the effectiveness of current vaccines, scientists caution that viruses will continue to evolve.

According to one of the scientists behind the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, another pandemic could be more contagious and more lethal than COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 5 million across the globe. Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert also warned that the current set of vaccines being used across the world could be less effective against the newly-discovered Omicron variant.

“This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and livelihoods,” said Dame Sarah, delivering the 44th Richard Dimbleby Lecture. “The truth is: the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both,” Dame Sarah continued, adding that the “advances we have made, and knowledge we have gained, must not be lost”.

Gilbert is a professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford and is credited with saving millions of lives through her role in designing the anti-COVID-19 vaccine in record time. Prior to the emergence of COVID-19, Professor Gilbert worked on vaccines for over 10 years, using antigens from malaria and influenza.

“The spike protein of this variant contains mutations already known to increase transmissibility of the virus,” the professor shared, discussing the recently-discovered Omicron variant. “But there are additional changes that may mean antibodies induced by the vaccines, or by infection with other variants, may be less effective at preventing infection with Omicron.”

On Sunday 05 December, the UK reported a further 86 cases of the Omicron variant, bringing the total up to just under 250.

“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,” Dr Gilbert warned.