Coronavirus vaccine could be available in Britain in just six months

Health chiefs are working on a timescale of 12 to 18 months before a drug is ready for use but an Oxford university infection and immunity expert, while acknowledging such a timeframe was likely, refused to rule out a six-month wait.  The vaccine would be used to protect high risk groups such as the sick and elderly who are currently being ordered to stay in self-isolation.

I believe that six months is possible but it needs a lot of things to fall in place in order for that to happen

Professor Andrew Pollard

Professor Andrew Pollard said: “I believe that six months is possible, but it needs a lot of things to fall in place in order for that to happen, including for the up-scaling to go well, for the trials to be conducted in a way that allows us to demonstrate that there is efficacy.”

Prof Pollard was giving evidence to the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee as Britain continues to come to terms with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

He told MPs: “The estimates of one year to 18 months, it would certainly be very likely that we will have different candidates in that time that would have been through all that testing.

“I think it’s certainly possible with some candidates to be much, much sooner, maybe even this year to have a lot of data on whether they work and whether they can be useful for populations.”

Prof Pollard said several coronavirus vaccines were being developed and the timeline depended on trials going well and production sites being expanded.

He said there should be support for firms to take the risk to invest in ramping up manufacturing before testing is completed.

Earlier the Science and Technology Committee was told the Government-led lockdown meant the NHS should be able to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

Neil Ferguson, who is recovering from Covid-19 himself, told MPs measures taken by Boris Johnson could tip the outbreak from a growing epidemic to a declining epidemic.

Professor Ferguson, director of MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, said if current measures work as expected, then intensive care demand would “peak in approximately two to three weeks and then decline thereafter”.

Prof Ferguson told the committee current predictions were that the NHS would be able to cope if strict measures continued to be followed.

He said: “There will be some areas that are extremely stressed but we are reasonably confident – which is all we can be at the current time – that at the national level we will be within capacity.”

“There will be some resurgence of transmission but the hope is that by employing more focused policies to suppress those local outbreaks, we can maintain infection levels at low levels in the country as a whole indefinitely.

“It remains to be seen how we achieve this and how practical it proves to be.”

Appearing via videolink, he said it was “plausible” Covid-19 could behave like other coronaviruses and transmission could be somewhat reduced in the summer months but perhaps not by more than 10 percent to 20 percent.

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Prof Ferguson said it was clear the country could not be in lockdown for a year, and that “the long-term exit from this is clearly the hopes around a vaccine”.

He told MPs: “The challenge that many countries in the world are dealing with is how we move from an initial intensive lockdown to something that will have societal effects but will allow the economy to restart.

“That is likely to rely on very large-scale testing and contact tracing.

“It should be stated that the entire world is in the very early stage of developing such strategies.”

The committee heard the current strategy aim is to suppress transmission indefinitely until other counter-measures are put in place, including a vaccine.

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