Covid vaccine could be ready by Christmas as NHS prepares to ‘fire starting gun’

4 November 2020, 16:01

The rollout of a coronavirus vaccine in the UK could begin before the end of the year
The rollout of a coronavirus vaccine in the UK could begin before the end of the year. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

A Covid-19 vaccine could be ready before Christmas with a health service chief saying the NHS is preparing to "fire the starting gun".

NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said a vaccination programme that would see jabs delivered at GP surgeries, pharmacies and mass testing centres – including at Nightingale hospitals – is being planned.

Sir Simon said GPs will be put on stand-by from December.

"We are obviously planning on the off-chance that there is some vaccine available before Christmas," he said.

However he added the "expectation" is that any vaccination programme would begin next year, pending positive results from the vaccine clinical trials.

It comes as the head of the UK's vaccines taskforce said data from the vaccine trials at the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca and Pfizer with BioNTech could be available this year.

Read more: NHS England to be placed on highest alert level as coronavirus cases soar

Kate Bingham told MPs that if she puts on "rose-tinted specs" she would hope to see positive interim data from both Oxford and Pfizer BioNtech on their potential vaccines in early December.

"And if we get that then I think we've got a possibility of deploying by year-end," she said.

Professor Andrew Pollard, who is the head of Oxford's vaccine trial team, told the Science and Technology Committee he is optimistic the data on safety and efficacy of their vaccine will be available by the end of the year.

He also said there is a "small chance" of a vaccine being made available by Christmas.

It comes after GP magazine Pulse reported on Tuesday that family doctors will be told to be prepared to start vaccinating over-85s and frontline workers from early December.

Because some vaccines need to be stored at -70C, Sir Simon added at an NHS press conference: "So it's going to be a combination of what GPs are able to do, what community pharmacists are able to do, but also mass vaccination centres, which is one of the purposes we will be using the Nightingale Hospitals for, and other locations as well.

"There will be roving teams who will prioritise care homes and social care staff and other vulnerable groups.

"But the bulk of this is going to be the other side of Christmas, but we want to be ready."

The Economist has previously reported that other locations being touted for mass vaccination centres include the Copper Box stadium in the Olympic Park in London, Woking Leisure Centre, Leeds Town Hall, and a university sports centre in Hull.

The two front-runners in the Covid-19 vaccine race – one from German biotech firm BioNtech and US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, and another being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca – are currently in Phase 3 of clinical trials.

Before any vaccine comes to the market, regulators have to confirm it is safe and effective.

Earlier, NHS England announced the health service is moving to its highest alert level – level 4 – to deal with Covid-19 cases.

Chief executive Sir Simon said some hospitals are already cancelling non-urgent work and the spread of Covid-19 needs to be "minimised" to avoid further problems.