COVID-19: Work on vaccines began before first case arrived in UK - Hancock

·2-min read

The Health Secretary will today praise the role of UK scientists in the fight against COVID and say the government "backed a lot of horses" when it came to vaccines.

In a speech at the Jenner Institute in Oxford, ahead of the UK-hosted G7 health ministers' meeting this week, Matt Hancock is expected to say: "Even before the first COVID-19 case arrived in the UK we'd started the work on how to develop, procure and roll out the vaccines that would ultimately make us safe.

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"I was told a vaccine had never been developed against any human coronavirus. We dared to believe, and we started early.

"We put out a call for research in February. By March, we were supporting six different projects, including the Oxford vaccine, alongside the vital work on treatments - including the Recovery trial, which led to the discovery of dexamethasone, the first proven treatment to reduce coronavirus mortality.

"These two projects, together, have already saved over a million lives.

"The biggest risk would have been the failure to find a vaccine at all. So we explicitly embraced risk early on. So we backed lots of horses and invested at risk.

"And instead of sitting back and waiting to see which vaccines came off, we were tenacious in helping them to get over the line, drawing on the abundant industry experience in our team."

He will say that the NHS has "performed with distinction...and it has deserved every plaudit that has come its way". Almost three-quarters of the UK's adult population has now had at least one dose of vaccine.

The UK's "scientific strength" is also expected to be applauded by the health secretary.

"Over centuries, we have built one of the greatest scientific capabilities in the world, and we must always support it," he will add.

The vaccine taskforce, set up to acquire and distribute vaccines, will also be praised with Mr Hancock describing it as "the single greatest asset that we had in this crisis".

Mr Hancock will also commend the "strength of our Union" in getting vaccines for the whole of the UK, although each nation has decided their own restrictions and timelines.

On Tuesday, Nicola Sturgeon paused relaxing restrictions across most of Scotland due to rising Indian variant cases.

Boris Johnson and his ministers are now facing pressure to do the same as several scientists voiced their concerns over the variant, which is more transmissible.

Downing Street has indicated Mr Johnson still sees nothing in the data to suggest the plan to end all legal lockdown restrictions is delayed on 21 June.

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