Health experts around the world have warned that COVID-19 is simply a sign of things to come.
Dame Kate Bingham, who chaired the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce, warned that the next pandemic could kill at least 50 million people.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, the vaccine expert commented that the world “got lucky” that COVID-19 was not deadlier.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has labelled the next pandemic “Disease X”, with many experts suggesting it is “already on the way”.
Almost seven million people died from COVID-19, according to the WHO, following an outbreak in early 2020.
Dame Kate warned that the death toll from Disease X could be more than seven times as deadly as COVID.
The vaccine chief also suggested that the next pandemic could be from a virus that already exists.
Speaking to the Mail, Dame Kate issued a chilling warning: “The 1918–19 flu pandemic killed at least 50 million people worldwide, twice as many as were killed in World War I.
“Today, we could expect a similar death toll from one of the many viruses that already exist. Today, there are more viruses busily replicating and mutating than all the other life forms on our planet combined.
“Not all of them pose a threat to humans, of course – but plenty do.”
She suggested that scientists are monitoring 25 virus families, which each comprise up to thousands of individual viruses that all have the potential to evolve into a full-blown catastrophic pandemic.
This does not take into account the viruses that could jump from other animals to humans.
Dame Kate added: “With COVID, the vast majority of people infected with the virus managed to recover.
“Imagine Disease X is as infectious as measles with the fatality rate of Ebola, which is 67 percent.
“Somewhere in the world, it’s replicating, and sooner or later, somebody will start feeling sick.”
This comes as UK scientists have already started to develop vaccines against an unknown ‘Disease X’.
The work, which is being carried out at the government’s high-security Porton Down laboratory complex in Wiltshire, is led by a team of more than 200 scientists.
They believe that the next pandemic could come from animal viruses that are capable of infecting humans and could spread rapidly around the world.
Scientists at the centre are monitoring several high-risk pathogens, including bird flu, monkeypox and hantavirus, a disease spread by rodents.
Professor Dame Jenny Harries, the head of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said climate change and population shifts are making another pandemic more likely.