Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine will most likely be rolled out in the ‘first few months’ of next year, according to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
The jab was expected at the end of 2020 but its creators have tempered expectations and pushed it back to next year.
Mr Hancock said today he still had some optimism the most vulnerable people will get their hands on the vaccine in the coming months in a ‘best-case scenario’.
But he admitted the more likely outcome would be a 2021 roll out of the jab, known as AZD1222, which was created by Oxford and owned by UK drug giant AstraZeneca.
The Health Secretary revealed manufacturing was already underway in the UK for 30million doses, enough to vaccinate half the population.
He said that having them on standby meant they could be dished out to those most in need as soon as the vaccine is given the green light by regulators.
Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine will most likely be rolled out in the ‘first few months’ of next year, according to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock
The jab was expected at the end of 2020 but its creators have had to temper expectations after community transmission began to fizzle out in Britain and stall crucial trials needed to seal its approval
Speaking on LBC radio today, Mr Hancock said: ‘We have got 30 million doses already contracted with AstraZeneca.
‘In fact they are starting to manufacture those doses already, ahead of approval, so that should approval come through – and it’s still not certain but it is looking up – should that approval come through then we are ready to roll out.
‘The best-case scenario is that happens this year. I think more likely is the early part of next year – in the first few months of next year is the most likely.
‘But we’ve also bought vaccine ahead of it getting approved from a whole different series of international vaccines as well.’
It has not yet been proven that Oxford’s vaccine works but early trials have heralded promising results, with tests showing the vaccine is safe to use in humans and appears to provoke an immune response. But data that proves it protects people is not expected until later this year.
More than 50,000 people worldwide are taking part in ‘phase 3’ studies to see whether the Oxford jab can actually prevent people getting infected with Covid-19.
In these tests the vaccine is being given to tens of thousands of people in real-world environments to see if it stops them from catching Covid-19 in the community.
Scientists behind the jab had to move their studies abroad over the summer – to South Africa, Brazil and the US – where Covid-19 is still rife, to speed up the trials.
There are not enough people catching the virus in the UK anymore to be able to reliably test whether the jab is working.
WHICH COUNTRIES HAVE ORDERED OXFORD’S VACCINE ALREADY?
The UK is the host of research and development efforts of the vaccine, which has been developed by researchers in Oxford and will be manufactured by AstraZeneca, a company based in Cambridge.
The British Government has ordered 100million doses of the jab and has already started manufacturing them so they’re ready to go if and when clinical trials are successful. The price paid has not been disclosed.
The US Government has ordered 100million doses of the vaccine and contributed $1.2billion (£910m) to the research and development of the jab.
European Union (EU)
The European Commission has agreed a deal for 300million doses of the vaccine if its clinical trials work, with the option to buy a further 100million. The deal has been made on behalf of countries in the EU. The amount of money spent is unknown.
Australia has confirmed it ordered enough doses of the vaccine to give one to its entire population of 25million people. It is not clear how many doses the nation has ordered. The UK – with a population of 66m but an order of 100m – ordered more than it needs.
One company in China has agreed a deal with AstraZeneca to make at least 100million doses of the vaccine.
Shenzhen Kangtai Biological Products, based in the city of Shenzhen, will increase capacity to 200m per year by the end of 2021.
A Russian company, R-Pharm, also has a deal to produce and distribute the vaccine, but it is unclear how many it will make or what it will pay to AstraZeneca.
Brazilian officials have set aside $360million (£274m) for at least 100million doses of the vaccine. Brazil is currently in one of the worst Covid-19 crises in the world with more than 3.6million official cases so far and 114,000 deaths.
Oxford’s Professor Sarah Gilbert, the brains behind the jab, said preliminary data from trials in these countries could be expected in the coming weeks.
She is still confident the jab could be ready for the most vulnerable people in society by the of the year, but she doesn’t expected it to reach the masses until 2021.
Mr Hancock has already created a pecking order for the vaccine, with frontline health and care workers, and those at an increased risk of serious disease, including elderly care homes residents, first in line to get access
Over-50s and those with heart and kidney disease will be next, according to Mr Hancock.
The UK’s vaccine tsar, Kate Bingham, has been saying for months that it’s more likely the average person will get their hands on a Covid-19 sometime in early 2021.
Mass-manufacturing is already under way, however, so that the vaccine can be produced as quickly as possible.
AstraZeneca claims it can manufacture two billion doses by summer 2021. The US has already ordered 300million doses and the UK has pre-purchased 100million.
Some 30million doses of the order are already being manufactured, Mr Hancock revealed today.
British gene and cell therapy firm Oxford Biomedica has already started making vials to be shipped to hospitals, chemists and care homes as soon as the Oxford vaccine is given the green light.
Oxford Biomedica will be the sole manufacturer of the vaccine in Britain for 18 months, following a deal with AstraZeneca last week.
Meanwhile, it emerged last month that Number 10 is drawing up emergency plans now in case of a scientific breakthrough before Christmas,.
The new rules being drafted will not shortcut the path a vaccine must take before it is approved for human use, and rigorous clinical trials must still be completed.
It is intended, instead, to speed up the approval process by giving the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) the power to issue a ‘temporary authorisation’ without waiting for the jab to be fully licensed by Europe.
Rules during the Brexit transition period – which doesn’t end until 2021 – mean any new medicine for coronavirus must be licensed by the European Medicines Agency.
But the new rule – for which officials are holding a three-week consultation – would mean that if scientists prove their vaccine works and is safe, the MHRA could approve it and get it used in Britain before it’s licensed by the European Union.
This will not cut short safety trials or any of the scientific work but will mean less paperwork has to be done before the jab can be used.
The rules are being drafted now in case a working vaccine is found before the end of the year, while the Brexit transition period is still going.
Drug manufacturers are so hopeful that their jabs will work that they are already manufacturing millions of them without knowing whether they will be used.
As well as speeding up the process of getting it from labs to patients, the British Government is planning to speed up the vaccination programme once it starts.
It will do this by training huge numbers of staff to give out the vaccines so there can be a constant flow of jabs being administered.
Russia to offer its Covid-19 vaccine Sputnik V to volunteers this week
Russian health minister Mikhail Murashko announced that the vaccine would be offered to volunteers
Russia will begin offering its coronavirus vaccine to volunteers this week, amid warnings that it has not been properly tested in human trials.
The Sputnik V, which is based on the vaccine for adenovirus or the common cold, has been fast-tracked to production after less than two months of human testing.
Health minister Mikhail Murashko announced today that it would be made available to the population, according to the TASS news agency.
President Vladimir Putin has previously claimed it is safe and that he tested it on his own daughter. ‘I know it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and, I repeat, it has passed all the needed checks,’ he said at a government meeting on state television last month.
But scientists in Russia and elsewhere have questioned the speed of its development, and warned it could have side-effects if offered to the public too early.
‘We have no idea that the claims that are being made about the safety and immune response of this virus are true or not,’ Peter Drobac, infectious disease medic at Oxford University, told Al Jazeera.
Russia has claimed the virus can provide immunity for SARS-CoV-2 for up to two years, but has failed to publish the results from limited trials on humans.
There are more than 100 potential vaccines being developed around the world, with Oxford University’s tipped to be a front-runner.
More doctors and nurses will be given the relevant training and health workers in other parts of the NHS may also be trained up.
Student doctors and nurses, and staff such as midwives, paramedics and physiotherapists could be among the newly trained staff.
There are around 1.1million people working in the NHS and officials say ‘no options are off the table’ in who they could train up.
Everyone who is included in the programme will go through a ‘robust training programme’, the Department of Health said.
Ministers are also reported to be considering drive-through vaccine clinics which work in a similar way to the regional coronavirus testing centres.
People could be able to drive to centres specially set up – possibly in GP surgery car parks, for example – and get the vaccine without having to go into a clinic or hospital.
This could make the process faster and make social distancing easier. The car park plan was drawn up for flu vaccinations in the coming months, The Times reported, but it’s possible that it could be used for a Covid-19 jab in future.