The UK could have been better prepared against the onslaught of COVID-19 if more had been done to learn key lessons from the world of veterinary science.
Last week, the number of global deaths caused by the coronavirus pandemic passed 500,000 and many countries, including the US, are beginning to see infection rates rise again as fears grow of a second spike in infections.
The sudden emergence and high virulence of the disease has caught human health systems off guard, and according to RVC principal and one health advocate Stuart Reid, closer cooperation with animal health scientists could have helped limit the damage.
Prof Reid said: “I do not disagree that we could have been better prepared for this epidemic.
“I am not throwing stones at anybody, and we all have 20/20 vision in retrospect, but there were things that could have been learned from us at the start of this crisis about early action and early stopping of movement.
“Putting that into the context of the Government response to COVID-19, look back to 2001, and the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.
“At that time the CVO was criticised for delaying imposing restrictions on animal movements for 12 hours – but how long did it take us to go into lockdown for coronavirus?
“We have a mindset of think big and make those decisions early, and be decisive in veterinary science, and that is what effective disease control is all about.”
‘On same side’
Prof Reid added: “One of the issues is that medicine in the broadest context has not been as focused on infectious disease because there have been antibiotics and because we have been developing vaccines.
“But the likes of Ebola, SARS-CoV-1 and now, of course, SARS-CoV-2 shows us this battle is never over.
“In the animal health world one of the major things we deal with is infectious disease, and sometimes I think we just have to recognise that we’re all on the same side and it is just about looking for lessons that can be learned to the benefit of all.”
Prof Reid was speaking following the news that the RVC has received a £1.25 million grant from The Wolfson Foundation to help it develop a new £45 million one health research and teaching facility at its Hawkshead campus.
The centre will incorporate a veterinary vaccinology and cell therapy hub that will accelerate its one health approach, and boost the development of next-generation vaccines and cell therapies to combat key animal pathogens – and ultimately protect humans.