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Coronavirus could circulate around globe indefinitely, says government adviser

‘I believe this virus will continue to circulate in human populations for many many years to come if not permanently’

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 22 April 2020 19:15 BST
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Coronavirus could circulate among humans indefinitely the Wellcome Trust has warned
Coronavirus could circulate among humans indefinitely the Wellcome Trust has warned (Reuters)

The coronavirus could circulate around the globe permanently and an extra $8bn (£6.5bn) of funding is needed to develop workable vaccines to stop the pandemic's spread, one of the senior scientists advising the government has warned.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), and director of global charity the Wellcome Trust, said the money would be needed to ensure vaccines that work against coronavirus could be developed.

But he also warned billions more would be needed in order to manufacture enough vaccine for the whole world.

He said: “We absolutely must at least assume and prepare for, even if we can’t be sure it will happen, that this is not a discrete one-off episode. My belief is that this is now an endemic human infection. It has been in millions of people already and it is likely that this is here with the human race for the future.

“I believe this virus will continue to circulate in human populations for many many years to come, if not permanently.”

He said societies would need to find ways to combat the infection with public health measures like social distancing and wearing masks but he said the real “movement forward” would be new tests and treatments.

“We have to have drugs to treat this infection because it will come back and there will be people that get sick. It is critical we develop vaccines so that we can prevent what I think we should assume are inevitable future waves.”

So far, more than 100 potential vaccines are being investigated around the world, with three already starting human trials. A fourth vaccine in Oxford is to begin human trials on Thursday.

Farrar warned the economic and social impact of lockdowns would be widespread in both developed and developing countries. The virus may have also underestimated in terms of the effect on people’s wider health.

He also emphasised that it was vital that any vaccine is made available globally and not “just in a vial given to a few people” or those who could afford to buy it.

Farrar said it would be necessary to “protect everybody in the world”.

He continued: “That’s the call to action. The cost of this will be huge and will not come cheap. It will require billions and billions of dollars to do that.

“We believe there is a funding gap still of about $8bn (£6.5bn) to get this done. It will need much more than that to manufacturer at scale for up to seven billion people to distribute around the world.”

The UK has given £250m to a global fund to search for a vaccine, and a total of £1.9bn had been pledged as of 13 April according to the Wellcome Institute.

He said the Wellcome Trust was supporting the European Commission’s pledging conference on 4 May to raise funds.

“It is going to take an unprecedented response to what is an unprecedented epidemic. We have faced nothing like this in the last hundred years but science can be the way through.”

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