THE Science and Technology Committee has published a report stating that the UK lacks the capacity to manufacture vaccines quickly in the event of an Ebola epidemic.
Ebola killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa since late 2013, and the worst of the epidemic was declared “over” in January by the World Health Organisation (WHO). However, the committee set up an inquiry as to how the UK would be prepared in the unlikely event an Ebola outbreak were to happen in the UK.
The committee, consisting of members of the UK parliament, said in the report that the UK is not prepared for an outbreak, citing a “lack of capacity to manufacture vaccines places the UK in a vulnerable position when the next epidemic strikes.”
The committee is urging the UK government to negotiate with private pharmaceutical companies to keep stockpiles of vaccines in the UK that would be ready for immediate clinical trials, and would be instantly available to access upon an outbreak.
The UK government has been criticised for not acting fast enough during the West African outbreak in late 2013. The committee fears the same bureaucratic procedures may interfere with treatments reaching patients before a possible outbreak can escalate.
Nicola Blackwood, the chair of the committee, said, “The UK response to Ebola – like the international one – was undermined by systematic delay. The government's emergency response procedures were triggered too late.
“A combination of hard work and chance prevented Ebola spreading further than it did, but a future epidemic may be less containable. We must take the opportunity now to ensure that the UK is not caught unprepared when the next disease emergency strikes. Lives can be lost for every day of delay.”
The report recommends that the UK government takes steps to prevent potential outbreaks spreading. These include: increasing transmissions of disease surveillance data to medical authorities; encouraging private and public investment in R&D and vaccine production; and investing in the production of 10,000 rapid diagnostic antigen test kits for faster disease identification.
The UK government already has a £1bn (US$1.4bn) “Ross Fund” for infectious disease research. George Osborne, UK chancellor pledged a further £1.5bn for a “Global Challenges research fund” in the last spending review. The funds include support for research programmes, including vaccines and emerging and current viral threats.
Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.