The NHS is preparing to introduce a coronavirus vaccine soon after Christmas. Trials have shown it will cut infections and save lives, Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, has privately revealed.
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Tim Shipman and Andrew Gregory www.thetimes.co.uk
He told MPs last week that stage three trials of the vaccine created at Oxford University and being manufactured by AstraZeneca mean a mass rollout is on the horizon as early as December. Thousands of NHS staff are to undergo training to administer a vaccine before the end of the year.
The government changed the law this weekend to expand the number of health professionals able to inoculate the public. The regulations will enable pharmacists, dentists, midwives and paramedics to administer jabs.
Van-Tam gave a briefing to MPs on Monday afternoon in which 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. That would have a significant impact on hospital admissions and deaths.”
The first vaccines will be given to the elderly and vulnerable and to vaccinate those most at risk will take several months. Most people will not be given the jab.
An MP who attended another briefing with Van-Tam said he was “very bullish about the third stage AstraZeneca results, which he expects between the end of this month and the end of next”. The MP said: “Van-Tam expects it to protect the elderly and vulnerable. He gave us to understand that it stopped the virus ‘shedding’ in the young. He said he would expect vaccination to start in January.”
Boris Johnson warned last week that there might never be a vaccine, but insiders say he did so because the government does not want to “overpromise and underdeliver”.
A health department official confirmed a “robust and comprehensive training programme” was being developed by the NHS and Public Health England to train more people to administer injections.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said: “These legal changes will help us in to make sure we are ready to roll out a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine as soon as it has passed clinical trials and undergone rigorous checks by the regulator.” Van-Tam added: “Vaccines are being developed at a speed that, if successful, will save lives.”