LONDON – One of the UK’s leading immunologists warned that COVID-19 could be “here forever”. John Bell, a scientist and regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, said that the pathogen underpinning the virus allegedly “may never be eliminated”, The Independent reported.
During a session of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, Bell, 68, added that any potential coronavirus vaccine “is unlikely to have a durable effect that’ll last for a very long time”.
“So we’re going to have a continual cycle of vaccinations and then more disease, and more vaccinations and more disease,” Bell told the Committee, chaired by former Health Secretary and Tory MP Jeremy Hunt.
Bell, used polio as an example of how “difficult it can be to completely suppress a disease”.
“Look at how much trouble they’ve had in eliminating, for example, polio, that eradication programme has been going on for 15 years and they’re still not there,” he said.
“So this [COVID-19] is going to come and go, and we’re going to get winters where we get a lot of this virus back in action,” he continued.
Bell’s comments came less than 24 hours after the government provided early access to 90 million COVID-19 vaccine doses through partnerships with pharmaceutical companies BioNTech and Pfizer. Researchers at Oxford University also on Monday announced that a vaccine being developed in collaboration with AstraZeneca induces a “strong immune response” and “appears to be safe”.
During Tuesday’s health committee – in which MPs scrutinized ministers’ handling of the pandemic – Bell said the government had been “asleep” to the threat of the virus.
“The fact that we were asleep to the concept that we were going to have a pandemic, I think, shame on us,” he added, noting, “Since the year 2000 we’ve had eight close calls of emerging infectious diseases, any one of which could have swept the globe as a pandemic.”
He also stated,
“This is not new and I think we should not be proud of the fact that we ended up with a system which had no resilience to pandemics. I think the biggest single failure was not being on the front foot”.
During the session, Paul Nurse stated there had been a lack of leadership at the top of government throughout the pandemic. The geneticist warned that the UK risks sleepwalking into a “winter of discontent” unless clear governance structures are implemented for the remainder of the pandemic.
“It’s not always been clear at least to me and my colleagues as to who is in charge exactly and whose been making decisions,” he stated.
“My experience in talking to advisers and also politicians is that I’ve never found it too easy to find out who is responsible for the different parts of the strategy and for that matter the tactics that are being put in place. I have a sense there has been too much pass the parcel,” he added.