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COVID vaccine in 'last mile' of development and 'could be rolled out before Christmas'

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer
·3-min read
File photo dated 05/10/09 of a nurse preparing to give a patient a vaccine. Just over half the UK population would be certain or very likely to have a vaccine against coronavirus, with "damaging" misperceptions influencing people's intentions, research suggests.
A potential coronavirus vaccine could be ready to distribute in the UK by Christmas. (PA)

A COVID vaccine could be ready for distribution by as early as Christmas, after reaching its “last mile” of development, reports suggest.

The government has already bought up 40 million doses of the drug, from German firm BioNtech and backed by pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer, according to The Times.

Each person would need two doses of the vaccine, meaning up to 20 million people could be inoculated.

It is one of six vaccines currently in trials, including one developed by Oxford University, that the government has secured early access to.

Pfizer said it hopes to have produced 100 million doses globally by the end of the year if it passes trials, with a further billion doses made in 2021.

ANKARA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 27: Injection syringe of the phase 3 vaccine trial, developed against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by the U.S. Pfizer and German BioNTech company, are seen at the Ankara University Ibni Sina Hospital in Ankara, Turkey on October 27, 2020. This vaccine candidate, within the scope of phase 3 studies, was injected to volunteers in Ankara University Ibni Sina Hospital. (Photo by Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Syringes of the phase 3 vaccine trial, developed against COVID-19 by Pfizer and German company BioNTech. (Getty)

The vaccine must pass safety trials before it can be considered for use, which means it will not be ready until the third week of November.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told The Times: “We have reached the last mile.

“Let’s all have the patience required for something so important for health and the global economy.”

Watch: Thousands volunteer to take part in UK vaccine trials

Meanwhile, the national clinical director of Scotland has said Scots could also be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Christmas.

Jason Leitch told the BBC’s Drivetime With John Beattie that while officials do not expect a vaccine “in days” they are receiving encouraging vaccine news.

Beattie said: “London hospitals have been told to be on standby for this Oxford Astra vaccine by Monday 2 November.”

There are more than 200 vaccine candidates in development around the world, with 44 in clinical trials.

Of the 44, nine are in the phase three stage of clinical evaluation and are being given to thousands of people to confirm safety and effectiveness.

An effective vaccine is one that can act against infection, disease, or transmission – potentially keeping the COVID-19 pandemic under control.

The UK has bought up 340 million doses of six prototype vaccines – more than any other country.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) looks on during a visit to the Jenner Institute in Oxford, central England, on September 18, 2020, where the Prime Minister toured the laboratory and met scientists who are leading the covid-19 vaccine research. - Millions more people in northern and central England faced new restrictions over a surge in coronavirus cases, the British government announced on Friday, as it warned another national lockdown could be imminent. (Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth / POOL / AFP) (Photo by KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson looks on during a visit to the Jenner Institute in Oxford where he met scientists who are leading the COVID-19 vaccine research. (Getty)

However, Dr Susanne Hodgson, of the University of Oxford, said it was “unlikely that we will see a single vaccine winner in the race against COVID-19”.

She added: “Different technologies will bring distinct advantages that are relevant in different situations, and additionally, there will probably be challenges with manufacturing and supplying a single vaccine at the scale required, at least initially.”

The government announced last week that it is putting £33.6m towards human challenge studies, with trials set to begin in early January 2021.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday that the “bulk” of the roll-out of a coronavirus vaccine could occur before next summer, and did not rule out some batches being available this year.

ANKARA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 27: A health care worker injects the a syringe of the phase 3 vaccine trial, to a volunteer at the Ankara University Ibni Sina Hospital in Ankara, Turkey on October 27, 2020. This vaccine candidate developed against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by the U.S. Pfizer and German BioNTech company. (Photo by Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A health care worker injects the a syringe of the phase 3 vaccine trial, to a volunteer at the Ankara University Ibni Sina Hospital in Ankara, Turkey. (Getty)

Asked about reports that NHS staff could soon be injected with a vaccine, he said: “Well, we’re not there yet.

“The vaccine programme is progressing well. We’re in very close contact with the leading candidates.

“On my central expectation, I would expect the bulk of the rollout to be in the first half of next year.”

Asked if there could be some this year, he said: “Well, I don’t rule that out, but that is not my central expectation.”

Watch: ‘More than one vaccine will be available in 2021’

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