Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, who worked on the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, has predicted that Covid-19 is unlikely to mutate into a deadlier or more virulent variant
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The professor who helped make the most widely distributed Covid vaccine in the world has predicted the novel coronavirus will end up just causing the common cold.
Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, who worked on the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, has said Covid-19 is unlikely to mutate into a deadlier variant.
Instead it will probably “become less virulent as (it) circulates through the population”, adding: “There is no reason to think we will have a more virulent version of Sars-CoV-2”.
Dame Sarah, who led the vaccine team at Oxford University’s Jenner institute, said the virus which causes Covid-19 will eventually become like the coronaviruses which circulate widely and cause colds.
She told a Royal Society of Medicine seminar: “We already live with four different human coronaviruses that we don’t really ever think about very much and eventually Sars-CoV-2 will become one of those.
“It’s just a question of how long it’s going to take to get there and what measures we’re going to have to take to manage it in the meantime.”
Dame Sarah’s comments were echoed by Professor David Matthews, Professor of Virology at Bristol’s School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine.
He told the Mirror: “Babies born today will probably catch it, bat it away, and by the time they’re 20/30/40-years-old they’ll have fought the virus and won dozens of times.
“This virus is probably not a killer in that it doesn’t kill babies, where as things like flu do. It will settle down to just a common cold.”
Despite the world’s reliance on the Covid vaccines to manage the pandemic, including the Oxford jab, Dame Sarah went on to tell the crowd that she is struggling to get funding to help prevent future pandemics.
She said urgent investment was needed to prevent other infectious diseases spreading around the world.
“We’re still trying to raise funds to develop other vaccines that we were working on before the pandemic, against diseases that have caused outbreaks in the past and will cause outbreaks in the future,” the scientist added, the Daily Mail reported.
“We are being financially supported for our ongoing work against Covid… but when we try to return to projects we were working on before coronavirus we’re still trying to get funding.”
As Dame Sarah looked to the virus’ longer term future, on Wednesday England’s chief medical officer warned of the risk to children from coronavirus over the coming months, particularly those who are not vaccinated.
Professor Chris Whitty said that about half of children have already had Covid-19 and the rest are more likely to get it without a vaccine.
He warned that “quite a lot of damage” could still occur over the winter months.
Speaking as the jab was rolled out to 12 to 15-year-olds, he told MPs: “Let’s make an assumption that the great majority of children who’ve not currently had Covid-19 are going to get it at some point over the next period.
“It won’t be necessarily in the next two or three months but they will get it sooner or later.”
But addressing the Commons education committee, Prof Whitty added: “Vaccination will reduce that risk.”
England’s chief medical officer was facing questions from MPs about the inclusion of children in the Government’s Covid-19 vaccination programme.
When asked what proportion of children had already had Covid-19, he replied: “It varies by age and it does also vary by setting, but I think if we go for roughly half I think that is a reasonable stab at this.
“That’s half over the period of the entire epidemic to date, and we’ve got quite a way to run.
“We’re running into winter so there’s still quite a lot of damage that could be done in terms of disruption.”
England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam added that because the Delta variant is so infectious “we are not looking at a theoretical risk” of children aged 12 to 17 becoming infected.
He said: “I think it is really quite inevitable that they will be so at some point.”
Prof Van-Tam warned that these pupils could become infected during their GCSEs and A-levels when it is “extremely inconvenient to be laid low” with a cough, fever, and respiratory symptoms.
Addressing MPs, Prof Whitty added: “There is definitely substantial transmission happening in this age group. In fact, the age group we’re talking about is the one in which the highest rate of transmission is currently occurring as far as we can tell.”
Asked about modelling for school days lost due to short-term disruption as a result of the vaccine rollout, Prof Whitty said: “You are not comparing a child being vaccinated against nothing happening.
“You are comparing a child being vaccinated against a near certainty that child will get Covid-19.”
He added: “Our view is firmly that people who have an infection are likely to be off school for longer than people who have a vaccination on average.
“Therefore since virtually any child, unvaccinated, is likely to get an infection at some point between 12 and 15, that is the correct comparison, not against nothing.”
His comments came in the week that the Covid-19 jab is being rolled out to three million eligible youngsters aged between 12 and 15 across the UK.
It is expected to be delivered primarily within schools, and guidance has been issued to headteachers to contact police if they believe protests could be held outside their buildings.
Prof Whitty added that the views of families “should be respected” and children who refuse to get the vaccine should not be stigmatised.
Prof Van-Tam said he had “never once heard” of children being discriminated against because they had chosen not to have an influenza vaccine in school.
He said: “I believe I’m extremely reassured personally by the extreme competence of the system to have avoided that for at least a decade in terms of influenza immunisation.”
Consent letters are being sent out to parents with information on the Covid-19 vaccination.
But parental consent will not be needed if the child is considered competent to make a decision by themselves.
Prof Whitty told MPs: “In general terms, the younger the child the more the absolute assumption would be that if there is a disagreement actually the parents will be the right people to actually turn to for this
“But the two ends of the spectrum in a sense are once you get to 16 there’s a general assumption, and once you get to 18 there’s an absolute assumption, that the person themselves will make a decision.”
He added: “There is a bit of a sliding scale but in practice it’s actually very, very rare that, particularly at the lower age ranges, that this is relevant at all because almost certainly there will be agreement either way and we’re not trying to push this agreement between parents and children.”