Provided it gets approved, ten million doses of a breakthrough coronavirus vaccine could be available to the UK by the end of this year.
The nation had already ordered 40million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, 10million of which will be “available to the UK by the end of the year if the vaccine is approved by the regulators,” Downing Street said.
This development comes after Pfizer and partner BioNTec, on Monday, announced a major breakthrough, saying the jab was more than 90% effective in trials.
Expert Sir John Bell of Oxford University, a member of the Government’s vaccine task force, said people could look forward to a return to normal life by the spring. Asked if it was possible he told the BBC: “Yes, yes, yes, yes. I am probably the first guy to say that but I will say that with some confidence.”
However, Boris Johnson’s spokesman also warned there was no final date and could not say how long the approval process would take.
Asked if it would actually be deployed by Christmas he said: “The results are promising, but we have to remember there are no guarantees.”
The pharmaceutical giant and its partner BioNTech said interim results showed their jab could prevent people from catching Covid-19.
The vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries and no safety concerns have been raised.
Pfizer and BioNTech plan to apply to the US Food and Drug Administration by the end of the month for emergency approval to use the vaccine.
The FTSE 100 jumped more than 5.5% on the news this lunchtime as Dr Albert Bourla, Pfizer chairman and chief executive, said: “Today is a great day for science and humanity.”
Each person receiving the Pfizer vaccine in trials has needed two doses, according to Reuters, suggesting the initial batch in the UK could help up to 5million people.
It is one of several candidates for a vaccine which are all undergoing separate trials.
If a vaccine is approved in the UK, care home residents and workers would be given first priority, followed by over-80s and health and social care workers.
Those over 50 would then be prioritised in decreasing order of age, alongside people with medical conditions that put them at greater risk.
However, there is no priority for healthy under-50s, and the head of the UK’s vaccine taskforce has previously said any final jab may only go to half of Brits in total.
Experts have also warned it would take many months to roll out any successful vaccine programme to the wider population.
Commenting on the Pfizer vaccine news on Monday, the PM’s official spokesman said: “The results are promising and while we’re optimistic of a breakthrough we must remember there are no guarantees.
“We will know whether the vaccine is both safe and effective once the safety data has been published and only then can licensing authorities to consider making it available to the public.
“In the meantime, the NHS stands ready to begin a vaccination programme for those most at risk once a Covid-19 vaccine is available before being rolled out more widely.
“In total, we have procured 40million doses of the Pfizer candidate vaccine, with 10million of those doses being manufactured and available to UK by the end of the year if the vaccine is approved by the regulators.”
Asked if he knew how long licensing would take, the spokesman replied: “I don’t.
“I think we would obviously want to move with as much efficiency as possible but we do also have to ensure we’re satisfied the vaccine’s going to be safe as well as efficient.”
It comes as GCHQ reportedly launches a cyber operation to disrupt disinformation around vaccines being spread by hostile states.
False information about vaccines has increased during the coronavirus pandemic, with Russia identified as one of the main spreaders.
According to The Times, the UK spy agency is now using tools developed to stop material created by Islamic State from spreading against anti-vaccine propaganda.
Disinformation had falsely suggested a vaccine developed by Oxford University scientists will turn people into ‘monkeys’.
The bizarre pictures suggesting any vaccine created in the UK would be dangerous and claiming the virus uses a chimpanzee virus as a vector have been condemned.
Some shown on Russian TV programme Vesti Newsa included a picture of Boris Johnson portrayed as ‘bigfoot’ holding a folder headed ‘AstraZeneca’, the company that is manufacturing the vaccine.
Other images show America’s famous Uncle Sam poster with the caption ‘I want you to take the monkey vaccine.’
Reacting to the campaign, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described it as “utterly deplorable.”
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We take it very seriously. Frankly, it’s a shabby piece of disinformation. But it’s very serious because it’s an attempt to disrupt the attempts to find a safe vaccine.
“There’s no doubt about it – the UK is world-famous for the quality of our science and research. We’re the international benchmark.
“And we know Russia has a track record of using disinformation as a foreign policy tool. We’ve talked about it previously.
“But actually any attempt to spread lies about Covid-19 and the vaccine, particularly when we’re trying to come together as an international community to resolve a global pandemic, is utterly deplorable.”
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation drew up a “provisional” list on September 25 of who would be prioritised for a coronavirus vaccine, in what order.
The 10 priority groups include the oldest, at-risk groups and NHS and care workers before gradually decreasing in age to cover the over-50s.
The rest of the under-50 population would be at then back of the queue. The list includes:
- Older adults resident in a care home and care home workers
- All those 80 years of age and over and health and social care workers
- All those 75 years of age and over
- All those 70 years of age and over
- All those 65 years of age and over
- High-risk adults under 65 years of age
- Moderate-risk adults under 65 years of age
- All those 60 years of age and over
- All those 55 years of age and over
- All those 50 years of age and over
- Rest of the population (priority to be determined)
Those at risk in the priority list:
Such conditions may include (though this list could be updated closer to the time of a vaccine):
- solid organ transplant recipients
- haematological cancers
- certain neurological conditions
- chronic kidney disease
- poorly controlled diabetes
- chronic pulmonary disease
- obesity (BMI greater than 40)
- liver disease