Porton Down, one of the UK’s most secretive scientific research facilities, will stop the next epidemic “in its tracks.” I got through the extraordinarily strict security at this outlying institution to gain privileged access to its scientists.
Their headquarters are the brand-new Vaccine Development and Evaluation Center. Their research builds on the COVID reaction and attempts to reduce the necessity for lockdowns when a new illness next surfaces.
According to Prof. Dame Jenny Harries, CEO of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which manages these facilities, “Covid, of course, is not a one-off.”
“We say it [Covid] was the biggest public health incident in a century, but I don’t think any of us think it’ll be a century before the next,” she continues.
According to her, there is a “rising tide of risk” due to urbanization, climate change, and people living closer to animals, which is the source of many new diseases that spread to humans.
One of the few locations in the world suited to research some of the most dangerous viruses and bacteria is Porton Down, situated in the serene Wiltshire countryside close to Salisbury. Ebola and other diseases are kept in the freezers here.
The Ministry of Defence’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, one of the nearby structures, is where it was established that the nerve toxin Novichok was used in the Salisbury poisonings.
The quickly built vaccination laboratories located in dark green structures were part of the emergency reaction to Covid.
However, once the pandemic’s acute demands subsided, the focus changed. Three categories of threats are the main focus of the new vaccine research center:
Recognized illnesses becoming more difficult to treat, such as superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics. Possible risks, such as avian flu and novel COVID strains, might be a concern.
And “Disease X” — an unexpected event similar to Covid that completely shocks the globe. The goal is to help vaccine research at all phases by collaborating with the pharmaceutical industry, scientists, and physicians.
The first vaccine against Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic Fever, carried by ticks and kills around a third of those affected, is being developed by experts at Porton Down. The illness is prevalent in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans and might spread further due to climate change.
The efficacy of the vaccination is assessed at the opposite end of the procedure. Researchers in this area first discovered the Omicron variant’s ability to circumvent part of the protection provided by COVID vaccinations.
New COVID variations are still being monitored by being grown in a lab, exposed to blood sample-derived antibodies, and tested for infectious potential.
In the meantime, computers on the front lines are keeping an eye on the threat that the biggest bird flu epidemic in history presents. These machines go by the unofficial names Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, BB8, and Palpatine.
Routine testing of farmworkers has revealed the first asymptomatic instances of the H5N1 avian flu virus in people in the UK. The virus has decimated bird populations.
Bird flu human case discovered in the UK.
Before the epidemic, the teams in this area could only examine 100 samples each week; today, they can test more than 3,000.
The work done here contributes to the “100 Days Mission,” an incredibly ambitious goal to create a vaccination for a new hazard in just 100 days.
New vaccinations typically take ten years to develop and test. The first Covid vaccinations were created within a year due to the specifics of the pandemic, and the vaccine launch will begin in December 2020.
According to estimates, over 14 million lives may have been spared by Covid vaccinations in only the first 12 months of their usage.
Prof. Isabel Oliver, chief scientific officer at UKHSA, remarked, “Imagine if those vaccines had been available just a little bit earlier.”
They were available more swiftly than ever, but we could have saved many more lives and quickly restored to more routine. By learning from the Covid epidemic, we will be better equipped.
According to Prof. Harries, in the past, we have only responded to occurrences, but in the future, we must be proactive and “try and stop” any pandemic before it ever starts.
Furthermore, she continues, we must “stop it in its tracks” as soon as possible if a new illness does emerge. Source