The NHS has been asked to be ready to deploy a coronavirus vaccine from the start of December, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has told Sky News.
Mr Hancock described the development as “promising news” but, with England currently less than a week into a month-long lockdown, warned it was only “one step of many we need to get out of this and to tackle this pandemic once and for all”.
“The critical thing is that we all keep our resolve on the measures that are in place now,” he added.
However, Mr Hancock revealed he had asked the NHS, which will be supported by the Armed Forces, to “be ready from the start of December” for the deployment of a vaccine.
He said: “Of course there are many hurdles that still need to be gone over and we haven’t seen the full safety data and obviously that is critical and we won’t deploy a vaccine unless we can be confident in its clinical safety.
“But we also do need to be ready should a vaccine be licensed and get through all those hurdles and ready to roll it out.”
Mr Hancock said care home residents and staff, NHS and social care staff, and then elderly people would be first in line for vaccination.
But the health secretary declined to add his voice to those who have said life could be back to normal by spring next year.
The British Medical Association has said coronavirus vaccines could be available from GPs and large drive-through sites 12 hours a day and seven days a week.
Doctors should get ready to start giving out jabs as soon as they are available, the medical union said.
The BMA has told GP surgeries to be ready for “rapid delivery” of coronavirus vaccines once they are approved by regulators.
Family doctors are being given guidance on a new “directed enhanced service” that would go beyond their normal hours to deliver vaccines 8am to 8pm Monday to Sunday.
Patients are set to be given two vaccine doses – either 21 or 28 days apart.
As well as GPs and chemists, vaccines could also be available at mass vaccination centres that will operate “in a similar way to testing centres”, the union added.
There could also be “roving teams” of vaccine nurses who offer jabs to those in care homes or to people who are housebound.
The BMA said in its statement: “Vaccine availability will be limited to begin with, meaning only small numbers of vaccines may be given in December with most vaccinations taking place in early 2021.
“Working together, practices will need to be prepared to offer vaccinations seven days a week so that the vaccine is delivered within its short shelf-life and so patients receive it as soon as possible.
“Practices will need to work together to decide which one practice (or another appropriate site) is used for the vaccination site, remembering the need for provision to be potentially available 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.”
But scientists have expressed concerns about how GPs will store vaccines as they must be kept at -80C.
They say many surgeries do not have freezers cold enough for them.
Brendan Wren, a professor of microbial pathogenesis at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Sky News: “You can certainly make a lot of it but whether you could get it to everybody that needs it is another issue and that’s why it’s good that there are other vaccines available.”