Of the 1.67 million viruses on the planet, scientists know of about 0.04%. Between 631,000 and 827,000 might have the ability to infect humans. The remaining 99.96% comprise a dangerous unknown. The Global Virome Project, “preparing for the next pandemic”, seeks to find and study these viruses. Competing with an expanding population, increasing globalisation, and land use change, it aims to identify diseases and “fill the knowledge gap” without putting people at risk.
How likely is it that we will require this research? According to DrPH Jennifer Nuzzo, Professor at Brown University School of Public Health, “we should expect a future filled with infectious disease threats”.* Not a cheerful prospect, but one we can prepare for, she says. Writing this, we are conscious of not one, but two, recent outbreaks that give cause for concern. It seems that this “future” is not so distant.
CSO at PATH, Dr David Kaslow, stated we must learn from the Covid-19 pandemic, describing vaccine coverage as “deplorable”.* Citing the importance of research in preparation for coronavirus vaccinations, he said the “missing step” was turning the science into “shots in arms”.
He suggests leader plan “funding, staffing, communication, and vaccine use prioritisation”. Dr Nuzzo echoes this emphasis on communication. She warns that public education is a critical area for development. To better learn from the pandemic, she and colleagues will launch the Pandemic Preparedness and Response Centre at Brown University School of Public Health.
Apart from the obvious consequences of allowing another pandemic to reach spill over unknown, there are financial implications. The 2002 SARS outbreak cost the global economy between $30 billion and £50 billion. It makes sense for everyone, therefore, to get involved in the pre-emptive action against this nebulous next threat.
*To hear DrPH Nuzzo and Dr Kaslow at the World Vaccine Congress in Washington in 2023, click here to get your tickets!