CORONAVIRUS vaccines will start to roll out next month if one is approved by the British drug regulator, Matt Hancock confirmed today reports the Daily Mail.
The Health Secretary said in a TV briefing that the Government has officially asked the regulator, the MHRA, to consider licensing the vaccine made by pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and BioNTech.
A late-stage study this week confirmed that the jab was 95 per cent effective in clinical trials and appears to protect people of all ages from coronavirus.
The £15-a-dose jab is currently the odds-on favourite to be approved first by the MHRA, although candidates from Moderna and Oxford University are close behind.
It comes as Britain records more than 70,000 deaths involving Covid-19 across the UK since the start of the pandemic – up from 67,000 a week ago.
The total is based on the latest available reports on death registrations, plus more recent data on the Government’s coronavirus dashboard.
The Government’s preferred measure of the official death toll – which counts only those people who died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 – currently stands at 54,286 after a further 511 deaths were recorded today.
Official figures released today also showed another 20,252 people have tested positive for coronavirus.
While deaths are continuing to rise – with today’s 511 a 36 per cent increase from 376 this time last week – cases are down by 26 per cent from the 27,301 recorded last Friday.
And this week’s results from the Office for National Statistics mass testing survey suggest that England’s second wave peaked at the start of lockdown, with the estimated daily infections tumbling by 18 per cent in the first week of the shutdown, from 47,700 to 38,900 per day by November 14.
Speaking with Mr Hancock at a Downing Street press conference, professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, also urged caution and suggested any gains from the second national lockdown could be quickly lost as it takes ‘just seconds’ for the virus to spread.
Professor Van-Tam confirmed that the UK is ‘waiting’ for the watchdog’s authorisation to use the vaccine and said it would ‘happen at the speed of science’.
Leaked NHS plans today revealed that even those in the lowest risk group – healthy adults under the age of 55 – may be able to start getting vaccinated in just two months’ time if everything goes to plan.
The files say all pencilled-in dates for vaccines are dependent on the arrival of supplies – with up to seven million doses expected next month – and are based on NHS proposals to create huge GP-run facilities to deliver the shots.
Mr Hancock said: ‘I can confirm that the government has formally asked the MHRA to assess the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for its suitability.
‘If a vaccine is approved, it will of course be available across the UK, from our NHS, free at the point of delivery according to need not ability to pay.’
The announcement follows the news earlier today that Pfizer had asked the regulator in the US – the FDA – to do the same thing there.
It released a report earlier this week confirming that it had finished collecting the required amount of safety data and that testing showed its vaccine may protect up to 95 per cent of people from getting Covid-19.
Although Pfizer’s is currently the front of queue it may not be approved, or may take longer to get through the process that one that comes later, but officials are expected to give at least one type the green light this year.
The UK has ordered 40million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine – with the first batch set to arrive next month – and five million of Moderna’s – which are due in spring next year. It also has an order in place for up to 100million vials of Oxford’s candidate which scientists say should finish clinical trials by Christmas.
The leaked NHS plans suggest vaccines could be made available to all UK adults by the end of January but most 18 to 50-year-olds, who are the least likely to get severe Covid-19 and die, would likely be vaccinated in March.
Prof Van-Tam and NHS England national medical director Professor Stephen Powis both joined Mr Hancock remotely for the briefing, as they are self-isolating.
Prof Van-Tam said he was isolating ‘due to a household contact’ while Prof Powis confirmed earlier this week that he was doing so after a member of his household tested positive for coronavirus.
Prof Van-Tam said: ‘It just takes a few seconds to create new infections through unneeded close contact.’
He said those contacts turn to infections five to seven days later and then hospitalisations a week after, adding: ‘You could lose this in just a few seconds.’
He appealed to people to ‘keep up the pressure on this virus and push down on it as much as we can right to the end of the period (of lockdown)’.
Warning that infection rates will pick up again if the public ignores any guidelines put in place around Christmas, Prof Van-Tam said there is a ‘dual responsibility’ for people to follow the rules.
‘There is no magic number about how many days it is going to cost us,’ Prof Van-Tam told the No 10 press conference.
Earlier this week Public Health England said that Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) guidance had suggested that for every day of greater freedom five days of tighter measures could be needed.
Mr Hancock said ‘it’s still too early to tell’ what will happen after December 2 when England’s lockdown is due to end.
He said: ‘Over Christmas I know how important it is that we have a system in place, a set of rules that both keeps people safe but also allows people to see their loved ones.’
He added: ‘I just think it would be such a boost to the whole of the UK if the four nations can come together and agree a set of arrangements which are safe, careful and sensible but also allow families to see each other at Christmas.’
Professor Van-Tam said the Government hoped people would be able to enjoy a ‘sensible’ festive season.
‘The Government clearly wants to give us a break to some extent at Christmas,’ he said.
‘We as citizens all want a break but there are no magic numbers about one day of Christmas – ‘n’ days of payback in terms of lockdown.
‘It is partly about the proportionate measures that the Government will take in allowing us to have a sensible Christmas.
‘But it is also about whether we comply and whether we follow the rules that are then put in place for that period.
‘If people don’t then the first scientific principle is things will go back up again. There is dual responsibility here.
‘There is no magic number about how many days this is going to cost us so we shouldn’t frame it that way.’
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has said he is ‘generally hopeful’ an agreement can be reached between the UK’s four nations regarding Christmas plans.
Mr Drakeford said ‘there are no sticking points, there are no disagreements’ so far in the discussions, more of which are due to take place next week.
Issues being talked about include travel between the nations, how long any easing of restrictions might last and to what extent households may be allowed to mix.
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