He told MPs: “We aren’t light years away from it. It isn’t a totally unrealistic suggestion that we could deploy a vaccine soon after Christmas. That would have a significant impact on hospital admissions and deaths.” It is believed healthcare frontline workers would be the first to receive the vaccine as it becomes available, followed by vulnerable people.
Government adviser Professor Jeremy Farrar yesterday said: “We are in for a really difficult time. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. I think from we have to be honest and realistic and say that we are in for three to six months of a very difficult period.
“The temperatures drop, we are all indoors more often, we have the other infections that come this time of year.”
Professor Farrar, from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, added the festive season “will be tough this year” and “not like a normal Christmas”.
But he predicted more than one COVID-19 vaccine could become available in the first three months of the new year.
He said: “Britain has access to any number of different vaccines across a range of different approaches. Vaccines come in all different styles and approaches and Britain has got a portfolio of vaccines through which more than one, I’m sure, will come through in the first quarter of next year.”
Professor Van-Tam is expecting the third stage results from the Oxford vaccine by the end of next month.
The Government has already secured 100 million doses of the jab.
Kate Bingham, the chairman of the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce, yesterday told the Daily Express: “Development of a vaccine by Christmas is possible but remains our most optimistic prediction.
“We have been open about the fact that developing a vaccine is a complex process which could take many months and has no guarantees.”
She added: “We have to wait for the results of the vaccines currently in clinical trials to know whether they are effective and even then we are unlikely to have a fully protective vaccine for some time.
“Alongside the acceleration of vaccine development, the Vaccine Taskforce is ensuring the country’s vaccine manufacturing capabilities are scaled up, so that if a vaccine is found and is effective it can be made avail- able to the public as quickly as possible.”
Business Secretary Alok Sharma, below, said in May that the Government had so far invested £47million in vaccine programmes at Oxford and Imperial College London.
He also announced a further £84million in new funding “to help accelerate their work”.
The Government also pledged £250million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations in March, to accelerate work to find a coronavirus vaccine .
Hundreds of thousands of doses of another potential vaccine have already been manufactured in Belgium.
The Pfizer jab is being stockpiled at the drug giant’s plant in Puurs, Antwerp.
The US corporation is planning to produce up to 100 million doses this year, of which 40 million will end up in the UK.
The jab is currently being tested on 44,000 people.
Everyone is expected to need two doses.
Pfizer’s UK boss Ben Osborn said: “It was great to see the first vial coming off the manufacturing line. It just brought a tremendous smile to my face to see all of this work actually result in a product.”
It is believed emergency approval for the vaccine will be sought in the US next month.
Thousands of NHS staff are expected to undergo training to administer a Covid-19 vaccine before the end of the year .
New regulations introduced at the weekend aim to expand the number of health professionals who are able to administer potential vaccine s.
The Government said the expanded workforce would undergo a “robust training programme” to ensure safety after changes to the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 came into force on Friday.
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Health Secretary Matt Hancock, above, said: “These changes will help us in doing everything we can to make sure we are ready to roll out a safe and effective vaccine as soon as it has passed clinical trials and undergone checks by the regulator.”
Virologist Dr Robert Lambkin-Williams said: “The UK in particular is doing very well. There’s lots and lots of safety that has to be done. No corners are being cut.”
The Government said yesterday there had been a further 16,982 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, bringing the total to 722,409.
A further 67 people had died, bringing the UK’s total to 43,646.