Following the news that a new Covid-19 vaccine has been found to provide 90 per cent protection against the virus, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that the NHS is ready to begin providing the vaccine “as fast as safely possible.”
The results of the vaccine - developed by American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German technology company BioNTech - has been described as “a great day for science and humanity.”
Could we return to normal life by spring?
Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, and a member of the government’s vaccination taskforce, said that we could look forward to normal life returning in the coming months.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s The World At One, he said, “Yes, yes, yes, yes. I am probably the first guy to say that but I will say that with some confidence.”
However, other experts have warned that the new vaccine is not a “silver bullet” when it comes to bringing the pandemic to an end.
Dr Charlie Weller, head of the vaccines programme at the Wellcome Trust, told the Press Association, “We do need to be realistic about what the vaccine can offer.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean that we’ll wake up tomorrow, we’re all given the vaccine and the pandemic ends. But it does give us that light at the end of the tunnel, that hope and that positively that there is going to be an end to this pandemic.”
‘The NHS is ready’
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Matt Hancock said, “We still appeal this morning for people’s patience, firstly to follow existing rules. Because this is still a deadly disease and this is not over yet.
“Even once we start to roll it out, we still need to look after ourselves, look after our community by following the rules and being careful to stop the spread of transmission.
“The NHS is ready, we’re prepared, I’ve put in the extra £150 million today, the GPs are ready, we’re working with the pharmacists, the hospitals are going to play a very important role.”
When asked about how many people would need to be vaccinated before life could return to normal, he said, “Well, the answer to that is we just don’t know.
“So trials can tell you if a vaccine is clinically safe and if it’s effective at protecting an individual from the disease.
“What we can’t know, until we’ve vaccinated a significant proportion of the population, is how much it stops the transmission of the disease.”
‘We cannot rely on this as a solution’
Speaking at a press conference on Monday 9 November after the news of the vaccine broke, Prime Minister Boris Johnson cautioned that “these are very, very early days.”
He said, “We have talked for a long time, or I have, about the distance bugle of the scientific cavalry coming over the brow of the hill. And tonight that toot of the bugle is louder.
“But it is still some way off. And we absolutely cannot rely on this as a solution.”
Johnson added, “The biggest mistake we could make now would be to slacken our resolve at a critical moment.”
He said that “if and when” the vaccine is approved for use, the UK “will be ready to use it.”
The Health Secretary said that it was the government’s intention that vaccination clinics would eventually be open seven days a week, with centres set up in places such as sports halls.
The British Medical Association (BMA), which represents UK doctors, said that “practices will need to be prepared to offer vaccinations seven days a week.”
The BMA said that it expects “vaccine availability to be limited to begin with, meaning only small numbers of vaccine may be given in December and most vaccinations taking place in early 2021, giving practices more time to prepare.”
BMA GP committee England chair, Dr Richard Vautrey, said that GPs and their teams have a “proven track record of mass immunisation campaigns” and that “GPs, practice nurses and other key staff are the right people to be leading this campaign once vaccines become available.”
The BMA said that eligible patients for the vaccine would be confirmed soon, but are “expected to be in line with the latest joint committee on vaccination and immunisation recommendations”, which includes:
All those over 50Those at high riskCare home residents and staffAll health and care workers