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Surveillance and Vaccine Development

This article provides an introduction to understanding patterns of infectious diseases, in order to be prepared for future pandemics.
person in lab coat holding pipette and conical flask

COVID-19 has demonstrated the ability of a pandemic to cause huge economic and social upheaval in addition to excess morbidity and mortality. It is crucial that work is undertaken to prepare for future pandemics and high consequence infectious disease outbreaks.

In order to be prepared for the next pandemic, we need to understand patterns of infectious diseases and need early warning of emerging threats. Public health surveillance systems around the world gather and analyse data to help us stay prepared. Surveillance systems generally include the below elements:

The elements of surveillance systems from beginning to end - 1. Identification of pathogens and infectious diseases in labs and clinics, 2. Notification and reporting to public health authorities, 3. Analysis of data collection to establish trends, 4. Reporting of information to inform public health action.

If you need a text version of the above image, this is available as a PDF.

Infectious disease outbreaks and pandemics are intermittent and can be unpredictable, therefore vaccines for emerging infections usually do not exist at the time the threat is realised. Through surveillance, WHO has identified a group of pathogens with pandemic potential in order to stimulate research and vaccine development:

WHO High Priority Pathogen List. This list includes COVID-19, Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus disease, Zika, and Disease X. Disease X refers to an infection by a pathogen currently unknown to man. Disease X refers to an infection by a pathogen currently unknown to man. If you need a text version of the image, this is available as a PDF.

The case studies in the next step illustrate how vaccine preparedness is achieved for Influenza virus and Rift Valley fever. The Influenza virus is considered to be the most likely infection to cause a pandemic whilst Rift Valley is an emerging infection with pandemic potential.

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Vaccine Development: Finding a Vaccine for COVID-19 and Future Pandemics

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