The coronavirus vaccine should not be made compulsory and it is unlikely to be available before Christmas, England’s chief medical officer has said.
Professor Chris Whitty told the Commons health and social care committee on Tuesday that he did not believe that making Britons take a COVID-19 vaccine was the way forward.
He added that the chances of the vaccine being available before Christmas are “very low”.
On Monday, the first results from a human trial of a vaccine being developed by Oxford University showed it is safe and produces an immune reaction.
Kate Bingham, the head of the government’s vaccine taskforce, said she was optimistic a COVID-19 vaccine could be available by the end of the year.
There has been speculation that any vaccine could be made compulsory, particularly after a recent survey revealed a third of Britons may not take it, as a wave of anti-vax misinformation continues to spread online.
But Prof Whitty told committee chairman Jeremy Hunt in a video call on Tuesday that making the vaccine mandatory was not his preferred option.
“Forcing people to have vaccines does not strike me as a good answer under any circumstances,” he said.
“We may well get a vaccine that in any case protects the individual but has no benefit to society – it’s simply to protect the individual.
“In which case, it’s entirely a matter of choice as to whether someone wishes to be protected against this very potentially significant disease.”
He said “if we were lucky enough to get a vaccine in time for the winter flu season”, then vaccinating for both flu and coronavirus would be considered.
However, Prof Whitty said he doesn’t believe a coronavirus vaccine will be available by Christmas.
“We are incredibly excited by and proud of what the UK has done leading the way on vaccine science here and funding vaccines elsewhere,” he said.
“But no one should be under any illusions, the chance of us getting a vaccine before Christmas that is actually highly effective are, in my view, very low.”
In an often heated exchange with Hunt, Prof Whitty defended his actions over the pandemic, saying mass testing had to be abandoned due to capacity issues and lockdown came at about the right time.
He told MPs that widespread community testing earlier on in the pandemic required "an infrastructure we did not have".
Prof Whitty also said that ministers followed scientific advice with a "delay that was no more than you would reasonably expect".
The chief medical officer said a surge of COVID-19 this winter is a "really serious concern".
On Tuesday, Professor Sir John Bell, from Oxford University, warned that coronavirus is “here forever” and is unlikely to be eliminated.