Forty million coronavirus vaccines could be heading to the UK in the next two and a half months after US multinational pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer revealed that it had started the manufacturing process.
The pharmaceutical giant – which already has "hundreds of thousands" of doses ready at its Belgian production plant – is committed to delivering 100 million in 2020, of which 40 per cent are earmarked for Britain.
The two-dose vaccine could potentially enable 20 million British patients to be inoculated before the New Year.
However, rolling out such a vaccine to the public is subject to it being signed off as safe and effective by regulators. The logistics of getting sufficient doses to the front line also pose a challenge.
Ben Osborn, the UK boss of Pfizer, said: "It's still to finish the clinical trials, it's still to go through the regulatory process, but we do have physical product there available should we be successful."
Mr Osborn told the Mail on Sunday: "We are already manufacturing the vaccine at risk and at scale."
His comments come amid increasing optimism that the vaccine candidate designed by Oxford University, seen as one of the front-runners in the international race, could become available in the UK before Christmas.
Professor Jonathan Van Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, reportedly told MPs last week that the drug, manufactured by AstraZeneca, could be ready for a mass roll-out as early as December.
According to the Sunday Times, he said: "We aren't light years away from it. It isn't a totally unrealistic suggestion that we could deploy a vaccine soon after Christmas."
Traditional vaccines work by injecting a deactivated or weakened form of the pathogen into the body in order to train it to recognise and defeat the active virus.
However, both the Oxford and Pfizer vaccines seek to introduce into the body a genetic sequence that prompts human cells to churn out parts of the Sars-Cov-2 virus, so the body can learn to deal with it that way.