A coronavirus vaccine could start to be rolled out this year, Matt Hancock has said.
The health secretary said the possibility a vaccine could become available before the new year could not be ruled out, after the Mail on Sunday reported NHS staff could be given a dose before 2021.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 on Monday morning, Hancock said “we are not there yet” and that he “would expect the bulk of the roll-out to be in the first half of next year”.
He added: “I don’t rule that out (the start of vaccination this year) but that’s not my central expectation.
“We want to be ready in case everything goes perfectly, but it’s not my central expectation that we will be doing that this year, but the programme is progressing well.
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“The true answer to your question is we don’t know, we don’t know when the first vaccine will be available but my central expectation is in the first half of next year.”
An effective vaccine could bring an end to the social distancing and business restrictions that have dominated people’s lives in 2020.
Various candidates, including the Oxford vaccine, are being tested to determine their effectiveness and safety.
However, the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned last week that a vaccine may not completely stop the virus.
Speaking to Parliament’s joint Commons and Lords National Security Strategy Committee, Vallance said: “I think it is unlikely that we will end up with a truly sterilising vaccine that completely stops infection.
“It is likely that this disease will circulate and be endemic.
“My assessment – and I think that’s the view of many people – is that’s the likely outcome.
“Clearly as management becomes better, as you get vaccination that will decrease the chance of infection and the severity of the disease – or whatever the profile of the vaccines are, this then starts to look more like annual flu than anything else and that may be the direction we end up going in.”
The head of the government’s vaccine task force has also said less than half the UK’s population may be vaccinated, with potentially just 30 million receiving a dose.
Kate Bingham told the FT: “There’s going to be no vaccination of people under 18. It’s an adult-only vaccine, for people over 50, focusing on health workers and care home workers and the vulnerable.”
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