UK scientists have begun developing vaccines as an insurance against a new pandemic caused by an unknown “Disease X”.
The work is being carried out at the government’s high-security Porton Down laboratory complex in Wiltshire by a team of more than 200 scientists.
They’ve drawn up a threat list of animal viruses that are capable of infecting humans and could in future spread rapidly around the world.
Which of them will break through and trigger the next pandemic is unknown, which is why it’s referred to only as “Disease X.”
Sky News was escorted around the site, which is run by the UK Health Security Agency, to see the work being done in high-containment labs.
Professor Dame Jenny Harries, the head of the UKHSA, told Sky News: “What we’re trying to do here is ensure that we prepare so that if we have a new Disease X, a new pathogen, we have done as much of that work in advance as possible.
“Hopefully we can prevent it [a pandemic]. But if we can’t and we have to respond, then we have already started developing vaccines and therapeutics to crack it.”
The Vaccine Development and Evaluation Centre at Porton Down has been expanded to take on the work.
Originally, it was focussed on COVID and testing the effectiveness of vaccines against new variants.
But scientists at the center are now involved in monitoring several high-risk pathogens, including bird flu, monkeypox and hantavirus, a disease spread by rodents.