KUALA LUMPUR: Molecular virology has outlined suggestions for developing strategies to prepare for the next pandemic.
This involves tracking the spread of viruses and vaccine production.
Monash University molecular virologist Associate Professor Dr Vinod Balasubramaniam said new vaccines should be developed within four to five months, which is possible through mRNA vaccine technology that has already been explored by major pharmaceutical companies.
He predicted that the Disease X strain, which could cause the next pandemic, was likely to be similar to the strains that are currently circulating.
"Existing strains that have caused outbreaks before can be used to initiate vaccine development, particularly with mRNA vaccine technology, which enables the production of vaccines much more rapidly when compared with traditional methods.
"Even though we have yet to know what Disease X is, it is crucial to produce vaccines before an outbreak happens to assess their effectiveness sooner.
"Drugs could be repurposed within three months, and new treatments developed within six months," Dr Vinod said.
He suggested increasing testing and surveillance capacity, including monitoring wastewater and air at airports to detect new viruses that might have a long incubation period before showing symptoms.
Citing an example, Dr Vinod said that in 1998, the El Nino weather phenomenon caused flooding in Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Tanzania, which led to cattle and humans living closer together on the remaining dry land.
This increased the risk of
diseases spreading between them.
Due to a shortage of vaccines, the cattle were unvaccinated against the Rift Valley Fever virus (which is spread through infected mosquitoes), a common infection among ruminant animals in the region.
The flooding created more breeding sites for mosquitoes, leading to a hike in the mosquito population.
This facilitated the emergence of the virus in human populations, which was then transmitted from human to human.
Dr Vinod also cited the example of Covid-19, the genetic sequencing of which was first isolated
in 2019, in proving the need for preparedness.
In January 2020, the Covid-19 genetic sequence was publicly disclosed, prompting a rapid global response to prepare for a potential outbreak and expedite the development of a Covid-19 vaccine.
In December 2020, the World Health Organisation granted emergency use authorisation for the Comirnaty Covid-19 mRNA vaccine, which was developed by Pfizer-BioNTech.
This and other vaccines developed helped control the pandemic, though it took time before the virus was declared no longer a global health threat.
Malaysia started its vaccination programme in 2021 due to various reasons.