The development of a coronavirus vaccine has “cleared one significant hurdle but there are several more to go”, Boris Johnson has said.
The PM said
early findings showing a jab could prevent 90% of people getting Covid-19 were positive, but added it was “very, very early days”.
He warned people not to “rely on this news as a solution” to the pandemic.
“The biggest mistake we could make now would be to slacken our resolve at a critical moment,” he said.
It came as a further 21,350 coronavirus cases were reported in the UK on Monday, along with 194 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
England’s deputy chief medical officer, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, said he was “hopeful” the first vaccine could be seen by Christmas and there would be a “much better horizon” by spring.
Speaking alongside Mr Johnson at a Downing Street news conference, Prof Van-Tam said there was more work to be done before it became available to the public.
“This is a very important scientific breakthrough. I am certain of that,” he said.
He said age would be the “biggest priority” when drawing up a list of who would be able to access the new vaccine.
Older care home residents and care home staff are at the top of a preliminary priority list published by the government, followed by health workers.
Prof Van-Tam described the development as similar to “getting to the end of the playoff final, it’s gone to penalties, the first player goes up and scores a goal”.
“You haven’t won the cup yet, but what it does is it tells you that the goalkeeper can be beaten,” he said.
The prime minister said “if and when” the vaccine was approved for use, the UK “will be ready to use it”.
He said 40 million doses – enough to vaccinate up to 20 million people – had been ordered, putting the UK near the front of the queue of countries in securing the jab.
Mr Johnson said he had talked for a long time about “the distant bugle of the scientific cavalry coming over the brow of the hill” with a solution.
“I can tell you that tonight that toot of the bugle is louder, but it’s still some way off, we absolutely cannot rely on this news as a solution,” he said.
The vaccine – developed by Pfizer and German-based BioNTech – has been hailed as a “milestone” by many scientists.
It has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries with no safety concerns raised.
Prof Van-Tam warned it was not yet known whether any vaccine would prevent someone passing on coronavirus to someone else.
Dr Charlie Weller, a vaccines specialist at the Wellcome Trust, said the speed of the vaccine’s progress was “phenomenal” but warned no single jab would be a silver bullet against the virus.
She added that the technology behind the vaccine, so-called messenger RNA, had not been proved effective in jabs before. It has been suggested it could lead to safer vaccines for many types of viruses in future.
Meanwhile, Surrey Police chief constable Gavin Stephens confirmed discussions with the Army were under way to determine the location of mass Covid-19 vaccination centres.
He said there was a question over whether vaccinations should happen in the same place as testing and how many sites would be needed to meet capacity.
GPs in England have been told to prepare to give patients two vaccine doses – to be delivered between 21 and 28 days apart – during clinics that could run between 08:00 and 20:00 GMT seven days a week as early as December, according to the British Medical Association (BMA).
The BMA, which represents doctors, said it expects “vaccine availability to be limited to begin with, meaning only small numbers of vaccine may be given in December and most vaccinations taking place in early 2021”.
PM’s message? Don’t drop your guard
Managing expectations seemed to be a key theme of Monday’s televised briefing.
Both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and England’s deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam were at pains to inject a bit of realism into some of the euphoria over the vaccine news.
The PM said we must not “slacken our resolve”, while Prof Van-Tam said it would not make “any difference” for the second wave this winter.
Their message was simple – do not drop your guard against the virus.
It is easy to understand why. The world has been waiting so long for positive vaccine news.
But the announcement is just the first hurdle of many.
Safety has still to be proved, the jab’s ability to stop transmission rather than just prevent disease is not yet known, how long immunity lasts is uncertain, and whether it works with older people is still to be confirmed.
Other regulatory hurdles will have to be overcome – and that is before we even think about manufacture and distribution.
It could be that one of the many other vaccines being trialled proves more effective in the long-term. But, as Prof Van-Tam said, Monday’s news showed the opponent could be beaten.
Mr Johnson said levels of Covid-19 remained significant and were doubling in many areas, with recent data showing one in 90 people in England currently has the virus.
“There is a long way before we have got this thing beat,” he said.
He reiterated the government’s intention to end England’s current lockdown on 2 December and replace it with tiered regional restrictions.
In other developments:
- Wales’ 17-day firebreak lockdown has ended, meaning people can travel anywhere within the country, two households can again form a bubble and businesses that shut can now reopen
- Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the country’s Covid-19 restrictions are “highly unlikely” to be eased when they are reviewed on Tuesday
- Ministers in Northern Ireland are in discussions over whether to relax coronavirus restrictions – its four-week lockdown is due to end at midnight on Thursday
- The UK is making “good progress” in developing a testing regime to reduce the quarantine period for international arrivals, the transport secretary has said
- The coronavirus mutation causing concern in Denmark has arisen before in mink in the Netherlands, scientists have said – but it did not spread to humans there
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