Oxford, UK (13 April 2023) - The majority of the UK public is concerned that British politicians aren’t doing enough to prepare for the next pandemic, polling data from the Rhodes Trust and YouGov released today shows.
Three years on from the declaration of the Covid-19 pandemic, and despite over 200,000 deaths in the UK  and global economic disruption, 59% of the UK public think politicians aren’t taking the threat of future pandemics seriously.
The poll also found that the UK public has a strong desire to see greater action at both a domestic and international level to prepare for the next pandemic, with over three-quarters (77%) saying they think governments around the world should be investing more in their own healthcare system’s ability to respond to a future pandemic.
The poll, which surveyed over 2000 people in the UK, was commissioned by the Rhodes Trust ahead of the inaugural Rhodes Policy Summit on ‘Creating a Positive Legacy from the Pandemic’ on 14th April in London.
The event will bring together scientific experts, former world leaders, and business innovators to discuss what we can learn from Covid-19 to ensure the world is better prepared for the next pandemic.
Speakers at the Summit include Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, leading immunologist Professor Sir John Bell, and acclaimed HIV researcher Professor Glenda Gray.
They will make the case for developing an ‘Always On’ approach to prepare for the next pandemic: setting up the necessary global health infrastructure that can be used for both routine healthcare and to ensure that governments can respond quickly to the next pandemic. The event will explore what this approach looks like in practice, for example, keeping vaccine manufacturing and delivery infrastructure ‘warm’ and ready to produce novel vaccines for a future pandemic.
Commenting on the polling results, Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford, and Chair of the Rhodes Trustees said:
“There is resounding agreement from the public that politicians need to step up and take immediate, decisive action to prepare for the next pandemic. The devastating impact of Covid-19 made it clear that we can’t wait until a new pathogen starts to spread to respond; the time to act is now.
“Early preparation and developing an ‘Always On’ approach to make sure our global healthcare systems are prepared for the worst, is vital to mitigate the impact of the next pandemic and save lives.”
According to health analytics organisation Airfinity, which specialises in tracking the spread of infectious diseases, public concern about the need for greater political action to prepare for the next pandemic is justified. According to Airfinity’s disease risk modelling, without a strong pandemic defence system there is a 27.5 % chance that another pandemic as deadly as COVID-19 could happen in the next ten years.
Rasmus Bech Hansen, CEO and co-founder of Airfinity, said:
“Public perception that it will be a hundred years until we face another pandemic is unfounded. If we look at recent history, three dangerous viruses such as swine flu, SARS, MERS and COVID-19 have emerged every five years.
“A growing global population, climate change, larger numbers of diseases transferred from animals to humans, as well as increased international travel are the main reasons we are at risk of facing another pandemic as deadly as COVID-19 in the next decade. However, our modelling shows that with an ‘Always On’ vaccine approach this risk could be reduced by 70%.
“The world needs to be prepared and to do this public health infrastructure, surveillance, and global data sharing are essential to prevent history from repeating itself.”
Other key findings from the poll include:
- Nearly three-quarters 72% think politicians should be working more with other governments to prevent diseases spreading around the world.
- Three in five of the UK public (60%) think wealthier governments should be doing more to share access to vaccines during emergencies with low- and middle-income countries, while over half (52%) think wealthier governments should be doing more to support these countries to develop their own vaccines.
Notes to Editors:
Polling carried out by YouGov on behalf of the Rhodes Trust. The total sample size of the YouGov poll in the UK was 2,078 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13th - 14th March 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
About the Rhodes Trust:
The Rhodes Trust, based at the University of Oxford, is an educational charity that forges brighter futures for individuals and the world. We do this through a family of global fellowship programmes. The Rhodes Scholarship is the world’s pre-eminent graduate fellowship, bringing exceptional people of character to the University of Oxford to study. Over 8000 Rhodes Scholars, from more than 50 countries, have gone on to serve at the forefront of education, business, science, medicine, the arts, politics and beyond. Alongside visionary partners around the world, we are proud to be a global family of programmes: the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, Atlantic Institute, Schmidt Science Fellows, Rise, and Oxford Next Horizons.
Airfinity is the world’s leading disease forecasting company. It tracks, predicts and simulates population level disease outcomes in real time to inform decisions across the entire life science ecosystem that can increase the global life span.
Spanning over 150 viral, bacterial and fungal pathogens, across over 180 countries, Airfinity combines proprietary surveillance tools, scenario-based probabilities and forecast models with expert analysis to produce actionable insights across all aspects of life science decision making to reduce health and economic burden.
Airfinity is headquartered in London and Washington, D.C., with a team of over 120 scientists, statisticians, engineers and epidemiologists working across all major continents around the world.