Coronavirus pandemic 'could have been a lot worse', says ex-vaccine chief

·Freelance Writer
·4-min read
EMBARGOED TO 0001 THURSDAY NOVEMBER 4 File photo dated 23/10/21 of a patient receiving a Covid-19 vaccine booster after it was found that overall rates of Covid-19 in England are higher than they have ever been, according to one study that has been collecting data since May 2020. Researchers suggest the increase is being driven by infection in children aged five to 12, and those aged 13 to 17. Issue date: Thursday November 4, 2021.
A patient receiving a COVID vaccine booster in England. (PA)

With coronavirus rates surging in parts of Europe, the former head of the UK’s vaccine taskforce has said that the pandemic “could have been a lot worse”.

Dame Kate Bingham said the lessons from COVID should be used to treat the threat of a future pandemic as “serious as defence threats” – and investment should go into preventing them.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This pandemic, devastating how it was, could have been a lot worse.

“It could have been more lethal – it could have been a virus that mutates much more rapidly, which means you can’t develop vaccines.

“So this is not the time to sit back on our laurels.

“This is the time to recognise that pandemic threats are as serious as defence threats and should be invested and supported in the same way.”

WINDSOR, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23:  Dame Catherine Elizabeth Bingham, known as Kate Bingham, a British venture capitalist poses during Cliveden Literary Festival 2021 at Cliveden House on October 23, 2021 in Windsor, England. In 2020 Bingham chaired the UK Government's Vaccine Taskforce, steering procurement of vaccines and the strategy for their deployment during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images)
Kate Bingham said investment should go into preventing future pandemics. (Getty)

While the vaccine rollout across England has been regarded a success, Bingham this week criticised “the machinery of government” for potentially delaying it by months.

Taking aim at the civil service, Bingham wrote in The Times that there is “an obsessive fear of personal error and criticism” that “encourages foot-dragging”.

Boris Johnson tasked Bingham with leading the vaccine taskforce near the start of the pandemic, which sought to secure jabs that were deemed not likely to succeed before they were available.

Watch: Professor explains why Europe is seeing higher COVID rates than the UK

The move has been credited as the reason behind the early success of the rollout but Bingham suggested that it was the intervention of chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance that allowed the taskforce to be set up as quickly as it was.

She said in a speech at Oxford University on Tuesday: “Had we relied on the existing machinery of government, the outcome could have been very different.”

Bingham added that the UK was “neglecting” the threat of future pandemics and urged ministers – who she said lacked the scientific understanding to grasp COVID – to act now to build defences against a future catastrophe.

She called for a pandemic security adviser or minister to ensure the UK’s preparedness capabilities.

There have been 144,137 deaths within 28 days of positive test in the UK since the start of the pandemic, compared to more than 133,000 in Italy.

Germany, where COVID cases have surged in recent weeks, have nearly reached the 100,000 deaths milestone, with 99,773 recorded so far.

More than 87,000 deaths have been recorded in Spain, while France has seen more than 119,000 deaths.

The UK has the second highest number of deaths per million people in Europe, according to Our World in Data.

Confirmed COVID deaths per million people in Europe. (Our World in Data)
Confirmed COVID deaths per million people in Europe. (Our World in Data)

The figures show there have been 2,119.71 deaths per million people in the UK, compared to 2,208.64 in Italy.

While Germany has seen rising cases recently – thought to be because of the lower numbers of vaccines given out – their deaths per million people stands at 1,189.18, behind France (1,770.24) and Spain (1,879.68).

A total of 50,800,732 first doses of the COVID vaccine had been delivered in the UK by 22 November, government figures show – a rise of 23,258 on the previous day.

Now that almost all restrictions have come to an end, Oxford Street shopping district is busier than any time over the last 18 months as shoppers come to the West End in their droves and retail business looks set to bounce back well on 19th October 2021 in London, United Kingdom. Many people are wearing face masks in crowded places like this but they are no longer mandatory, while government advice suggests that it is advised to wear a face covering in busy public places inside and on transport, many people are still wearing them outside. People interact with the 'Christmas of Dreams' campaign by department store Selfridges. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)
Coronavirus advice was tightened in England on Tuesday ahead of the Christmas period. (Getty)

A combined total of 15,639,477 booster and third doses have also been given, a day-on-day rise of 308,166.

On Tuesday, coronavirus advice was tightened in England ahead of the Christmas period.

People in England have been advised to take a test before visiting crowded indoor spaces – which could include busy shops or Christmas parties.

Members of the public also advised to take a test before visiting a person who is at higher risk of getting seriously ill from COVID and get a PCR test if they have symptoms.

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