UK could have 'two or three' Covid vaccines ready in New Year, expert says

10 November 2020, 14:01

File photo: Reguis Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford Sir John Bell
File photo: Reguis Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford Sir John Bell. Picture: PA

By Megan White

The UK could have "two or three" coronavirus vaccines ready to be distributed in the New Year, a member of the Government's vaccine taskforce has said.

US pharmaceutical firm Pfizer, working with German biotech company BioNTech, has released preliminary findings that suggest their vaccine is more than 90% effective in preventing Covid-19.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told LBC's Nick Ferrari that the Government "will be ready" to roll out a new coronavirus vaccine should it become available.

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Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, said the announcement was a "massive step forward" and said there was a "risk that people will underestimate its importance."

He told a joint session of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee: "I think this journey to a vaccine has been a long journey and I think there's a risk that people will underestimate the importance of the announcement yesterday.

"The big challenge here was to find a vaccine that actually had efficacy against this virus.

"There are many pathogens for which we have looked for decades and not found a vaccine that works."

Calling it a "massive step forward", he added: "It also signals, I think, that many of the other vaccines that have the same immunogenicity are likely also to be efficacious.

"So I wouldn't be surprised if we hit the new year with two or three vaccines, all of which could be distributed.

"And that's why I'm quite optimistic of getting enough vaccinations done in the first quarter of next year that by spring things will start to look much more normal than they do now."

But Sir John said it was "unlikely" that the vaccine would be administered by GPs.

He said: "If we get two or three vaccines, which I suspect we will by the new year, then they will have different routes of distribution in my view.

"Some of them you administer just like the flu vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine needs a cold chain at minus 80.

"The idea that that'll be done through local GPs sounds a bit unlikely to me.

"I think they're going to have to have a bespoke solution for the Pfizer vaccine, which is absolutely worth it, but they will have to think quite hard about how they are going to do that."

The Welsh Government has said a coronavirus vaccine would be offered to people in high-risk groups as early as December if it passes final safety checks in time.

A spokesman said: "Planning for the delivery of a potential Covid-19 vaccine in Wales is well under way.

"This includes organising the logistics for transporting the vaccine, identifying suitable venues for vaccinations to take place and ensuring that healthcare professionals are available and trained to administer the vaccines.

"There will be limited supplies of a vaccine at first, so it will be offered to those at highest risk. The vaccines need to pass final safety checks, but if this occurs we will begin to immunise in December alongside other UK nations.

"Health and social care workers, care home residents and staff have been prioritised to receive a vaccine first, with roll-out to older people in age bands from next year."