'I'm hopeful': Coronavirus vaccine could be ready for Christmas – top UK government scientist

·News Reporter
·4 min read
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference on the coronavirus pandemic in the UK inside 10 Downing Street in central London on November 9, 2020. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / POOL / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson during a virtual press conference on 9 November. (Tolga Akmen/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

A coronavirus vaccine could be available by Christmas, one of the government’s leading experts has said.

Deputy chief medical officer for England Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, speaking at a press conference alongside Boris Johnson on Monday afternoon, that he hoped one would be ready before the year’s end.

However, the pair said they were not “relying” on a vaccine as a solution to the pandemic, and warned that news of a potential vaccine should not “slacken our resolve”.

Van-Tam’s comments came after it was announced that a vaccine candidate produced by Pfizer and BioNTech had showed 90% effectiveness in a trial, raising hopes about a way out of the pandemic.

“I’m hopeful... but not yet certain that we could begin to see some vaccine by Christmas,” Van-Tam told a Downing Street press conference.

Watch: Exceptions to England’s lockdown

He said he could not guarantee that COVID-19 measures could be relaxed by Easter, but said that “once these vaccines begin to be deployed, then over a period of time they will make a significant difference to the kind of disease levels we see in the UK at the moment”.

Johnson said following government guidance and rules would give people a better chance of having as normal a Christmas as possible.

Who will be first in line for a vaccine when it arrives?

Van-Tam said elderly people would be prioritised when it comes to distributing a vaccine.

“What is already very clear... is that by far and away age is the biggest priority for patients who most need the vaccines and need to get those vaccines first if they are safe and effective,” he said.

“You can expect the theme of increasing age being the highest priority to be a theme that stays with us as we go on this journey.”

The government website’s coronavirus section says its provisional plan is for people in care homes and those above 80 to be prioritised for a vaccine, followed by people aged over 75, 70 and then 65.

High- and moderate-risk adults under 65 would follow before those aged over 60, then over-55s, over-50s and the rest of the population.

Where health workers rank depends on the vaccine used and how COVID-19 is spreading.

A vaccine is ‘still some way off’

Johnson moved to temper expectations in the press conference, speaking of the “distant bugle of the scientific cavalry coming over the brow of the hill”.

“I must stress that these are very, very early days,” he said.

“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.

“The biggest mistake we could make now would be to slacken our resolve at a critical moment.”

He reiterated that England’s national lockdown should help reduce the coronavirus outbreak, and that it would do so with everyone following the rules, “not being mentally sidetracked by a sudden surge of optimism about a vaccine”.

Vaccine candidate appears to show 90% effectiveness

There were raised hopes today as Pfizer and BioNTech announced their coronavirus vaccine candidate was 90% effective – better than had been hoped for.

Pfizer Inc. headquarters is seen in New York City. Pfizer has released footage of a potential coronavirus vaccine rolling off the production line. The Manhattan-based drug giant company told the Mail on Sunday that it has already made
Pfizer and BioNTech's candidate has 90% effectiveness, the companies have said. (Ron Adar/SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

It comes as Johns Hopkins University in the US records more than 1.2 million deaths and more than 50 million cases around the world.

The UK has procured 40 million doses of the vaccine, with 10 million doses potentially available this year, Johnson’s spokesman has said.

Dr Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chairman and chief executive, said: “Today is a great day for science and humanity.

“The first set of results from our phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-19.”

Speaking after Pfizer’s announcement, Sir John Bell, who sits on the government’s vaccine task force, said other vaccines were likely to become available in the near future.

Asked if a return to normal life by spring was possible, the regius professor of medicine at Oxford University said on BBC Radio 4: “Yes, yes, yes, yes. I am probably the first guy to say that but I will say that with some confidence.”

Watch: Vaccine ‘90% effective in preventing COVID-19’

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