Matt Hancock: 'We will be out of this by spring' after Oxford Covid vaccine approval

30 December 2020, 08:24 | Updated: 30 December 2020, 10:49

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Matt Hancock has declared the UK is “going to be out of this by the spring” after the approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

“We now know with a very high degree of confidence that we are going to be out of this by the spring,” the Health Secretary told LBC’s Andrew Castle.

Mr Hancock called the approval of the vaccine a “big, big moment” and said it meant “we can accelerate the vaccination programme” and bring “forward the moment that we can get out of this pandemic”.

He confirmed the vaccination programme for the newly approved jab would begin on Monday.

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The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine - enough to vaccinate 50 million people.

The Health Secretary also said more areas would need to be plunged into Tier 4 restrictions as the virus continues to spread, with more details to be announced later on Wednesday. 

He said: “In the short term we’ve got to keep this virus under control... the new variant is making the suppress the virus part of the strategy hard.”

He added that he was not announcing harsher restrictions for Tier 4 areas where the virus is most out of control.

On the vaccine, Mr Hancock said: “The good news about this vaccine is that it does not need to be stored at those very cold temperatures, so it’s easier to get out into GP surgeries and into care homes and out into the community.”

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which is the only other vaccine approved for use in the UK, needs to be stored at -70C.

Mr Hancock said two doses of the Oxford vaccine will be administered 12 weeks apart - rather than three weeks apart in the case of the Pfizer jab - with immunity coming after the “very effective” first dose and the second needed for “longevity” of protection.

He said this “means we can vaccinate more people, more quickly than we could before”.

But he continued: "We’ve got the winter weeks ahead of us, they are going to be tough and difficult."

He said more Tier 4 restrictions would be required "because there are parts of the country where this is rising quickly now and we’ve got to protect the NHS".

He added: "We can see that we’ve got a very significant problem here and now but we’ve also got the route out, but it is a matter of holding our nerve for a few weeks until at the same time as the flowers start to appear in the spring so we will be able to start to lift the restrictions."

The Health Secretary also confirmed Nightingale hospitals remained "on standby if they are needed" after equipment was reportedly removed from the one in London and amid concerns over how they will be staffed.

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