Scientist spearheading UK covid-19 vaccine research says it's 'in our sights'

22 April 2020, 14:20

Two UK teams are working to create a vaccine
Two UK teams are working to create a vaccine. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

A scientist leading one of two UK efforts to create a coronavirus vaccine today said he was “confident” of success and that front-line workers could receive it by late winter.

Professor Robin Shattock from Imperial College's Department of Infectious Disease, said a coronavirus vaccine may be available for NHS and other front-line workers, and the most vulnerable by the winter.

"I think we are very confident that some vaccines will come through and work," he said today.

"There are so many groups working on different approaches and the virus is not as difficult a target as some of the things we have seen before.

"The main issue is that it doesn't seem to be changing very much. So it is a target we have in our sights and it is very different from influenza, which changes every year.

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"As long as this virus stays relatively stable it will be very easy to lock our sights on it in terms of targeting a vaccine."

“There are many risks of failure along the way. By having two approaches we increase the chances of having an effective vaccine in the UK.

"We are very conscious of timelines and the clock ticking and are trying to move as fast as we can.”

Professor Shattock’s team has been given £22.5m by the government to support the effort. An Oxford University team was given £20m in funding.

Announcing the financial support, Matt Hancock said: “In the long run, the best way to defeat coronavirus is through a vaccine”.

“The UK is at the forefront of the global effort…and for all of the efforts around the world, two of the leading vaccine developments are taking place here at home, at Oxford and Imperial.”Professor Shattock’s team has been testing a possible RNA vaccine in animals since February. They hope to begin trials in June.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at the first ever virtual session of PMQs that the UK was “at the peak” of the virus. But he added that there could be no relaxation of the UK’s lockdown until a series of tests set by the government are met. This was essential to avoid a second wave of virus cases, he added.

New Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of being too slow to respond to the coronavirus crisis.

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Sir Keir said: "There is a pattern emerging here. We were slow into lockdown, slow on testing, slow on protective equipment and now slow to take up these offers from British firms."

Dominic Raab told him the Government was guided by scientific advisers.

He said that if Sir Keir "thinks he knows better than they do, with the benefit of hindsight, then that's his decision".

Mr Raab said 8,000 British businesses had responded to a call for assistance on PPE and they had all received a response, with 3,000 followed up where it was "sensible" if they had equipment with the required specification and volume.

He said it was an "incredibly difficult and competitive international environment" to source PPE from overseas.