The chances of a coronavirus vaccine being available by the end of the year are ‘incredibly small’, England’s Chief Medical Officer has confirmed.
Professor Chris Whitty said he was ‘hopeful’ that the country would have a vaccine ‘much earlier than a year’, as scientists at Oxford University prepare to conduct the first human tests tomorrow.
His comments come as experts said a vaccine that gives the world protection for even 12 months or two years would be a ‘massive breakthrough’ – warning that the virus could continue to circulate in humans ‘for many, many years to come, if not permanently.’
Professor Whitty told the Downing Street press conference: ‘In the long run, the exit from this is going to be one of two things, ideally. One of which is a highly effective vaccine…Until we have those, and the probability of having those any time in the next calendar year are incredibly small, and I think we should be realistic about that, we are going to have to rely on other social measures, which are very socially disruptive as everyone is finding at the moment.
‘Until that point, that is what we will have to do and it will have to be the best combination that maximises the outlooks, but it’s going to take a long time and I think we need to be aware of that.’
He added: ’I’m very hopeful that we will have vaccines which have proof of concept much earlier than a year, to be clear, and there are very large numbers of people around the world, very good groups, excellent ones in the UK.’
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Tomorrow, researchers in Oxford will trial a possible Covid-19 vaccine on humans for the first time in the UK – while various other countries run similar trials simultaneously.
It comes as Dr Jeremy Farrar, the director of the research charity Wellcome Trust, said the vaccine would buy the world ‘critical time’, but claimed the virus could circulate ‘permanently’.
He explained: ‘We are 120 days into a novel infection and its an RNA virus so it will change. So whether this goes like flu and we need multiple vaccines every few years, we don’t know yet.
‘But let’s be clear if we had a vaccine that gave most of the world protection for 12 months or two years, that would be a massive breakthrough – even that would be a massive achievement.’
Dr Farrar added: ‘And we think that’s maybe what happens in the first generation of vaccines, maybe that’s where we land, but that would buy us critical time with the world better protected than we are today.
‘That would be success, as we see it at the moment.’
On what that might mean for coming out of a lockdown, Professor Whitty warned: ‘Until we have either a vaccine, or a drug… what we have available to us are social measures.’
Dr Charlie Weller, head of vaccines at the Wellcome Trust, said the two stages of vaccine development involved knowing whether there was a candidate that had gone through the clinical trials and shown safety and efficacy – and then being able to scale up its manufacturing for global use.
She suggested a vaccine candidate could be available towards the end of this year, but that it would likely be the result of countries working together.
The charity suggests at least eight billion dollars (£6.4 billion) worth of investment is needed for the world vaccination programme.
Dr Farrar also said it was ‘critically important’ to find out the exact origins of the virus, warning: ‘I believe this is now an endemic human infection that will continue to circulate in human populations for many, many years to come, if not permanently.
‘Where it started is critical to understand because if you look back over the last 50 years and you ask where did all these emerging infections come from, I think without exception they all originated in the animal sector.’
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Source: Metro News UK