Oxford Covid-19 vaccine professor warns of rising animal-to-human disease threat

The scientist leading Oxford University’s push for a coronavirus vaccine has warned of an increasing risk of disease outbreaks spreading from animals to people.

Professor Sarah Gilbert said human activity is driving the rising threat, adding the risk is unlikely to diminish in the future as globalisation continues.

The World Health Organisation says around a billion cases of illness and millions of deaths occur every year from zoonoses, or zoonotic diseases.

Meanwhile, 60 per cent of emerging infectious diseases that are reported globally have jumped from animals to humans.

“Greater population density, greater travel, deforestation – all of these things make it more likely that these outbreaks will happen and then something will spread,” Prof Gilbert told The Independent.

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“Because of the way things have been going in the world, it’s more likely we’ll have zoonotic infections causing outbreaks in the future.”

Most researchers believe Covid-19 emerged in bats and infected humans via another animal, probably in a market in Wuhan, China.

Other deadly diseases such as Ebola, Sars and the West Nile Virus have also originated in animals.

The Oxford project is awaiting results of phase three trials of its vaccine and, if a high level of efficacy is proven, the team hopes it could be available be the end of the year.

Oxford’s pharmaceutical partner in the project, AstraZeneca, has committed to producing two billion doses by next summer.

The vaccine is being trialled in tens of thousands of volunteers in the UK, South Africa, Brazil and the US.

Other vaccines in development have entered into the same stage, and Professor Gilbert said there was a “very good chance” some would prove effective.

“We’ve seen good levels of neutralising antibodies, we’re seeing strong T cell responses from some of them. If this works, other vaccines will also work. We expect there to be multiple vaccines,” she told the paper.

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