UK ‘Vulnerable’ to Next Epidemic

January 25th, 2016

A group of MPs has warned that due to a deficiency in the UK’s ability to manufacture vaccines, the country is vulnerable to epidemics like Ebola, which claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people in West Africa in its largest ever outbreak.

According to the Science and Technology Committee, Britain “lacks the capacity” to produce enough to provide adequate protection. They also said that the response of the government to the outbreak of Ebola was “undermined by systematic delay”.

Although MPs praised the efforts of volunteers tackling the epidemic as “heroic”, their report warned of their concern that in the event of a domestic outbreak, Britain doesn’t have the capacity to go further and create enough vaccines to protect citizens of the UK in an emergency. They went on to say that new plants will take a substantial amount of time to build and existing facilities are degraded, placing Britain in a vulnerable position.

The concern is that, in the event of a disease like Ebola spreading around the world, countries would take care of their own interests first. This would make it difficult for Britain to access vaccines.

The report also says that at every stage of response, delays were apparent. It highlighted research that suggests if treatment centres had been set up just one month earlier, 12,500 cases of Ebola would have been prevented. There was also criticism of the decision to set up screening at airports in the UK, despite the World Health Organization’s recommendations.

Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, Nicola Blackwood, said that like the international response to Ebola, Britain’s was undermined by systematic delay. She said the government’s emergency response procedures were not triggered early enough. Although Ebola tests kits were trialled and developed, they were not deployed.

Professor Adrian Hill took part in the trialling of Ebola vaccines at the University of Oxford. He said the lack of vaccine manufacturing is a “national security issue”.  Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer, echoed these concerns.

A spokesman from the Department of Health has said that steps have been taken to enable an even more effective response in the future. This include the £1 billion Ross Fund for research into infectious diseases, the UK Vaccine Network to target the most threatening diseases and a rapid response team of professionals, who can be deployed to investigate an outbreak of a disease in a developing country within 48 hours.

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