A coronavirus vaccine could be available before the end of winter but the world should still be preparing to cope with Covid ‘for evermore’, a SAGE scientist said today.
Epidemiologist Professor John Edmunds, who is part of the Government’s scientific advisory group, believes there is very little chance coronavirus will be eradicated completely.
But he told MPs it was an ‘almost certainty’ that a vaccine will help to manage the epidemic in the ‘not-too-distant future’, perhaps by the end of winter.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, has said it is ‘possible’ one of the dozens of experimental jabs being trialed on humans could be ready before 2021, but admitted last week he doesn’t think it’s likely that it will emerge ahead of spring.
Number 10 has already ordered 340million doses of seven different experimental jabs in a spread-betting approach that banks on one of them being proven to work.
Among them are three jabs created by Oxford University, Pfizer and Janssen – owner of Johnson & Johnson – which are all in the final stages of testing. But even if there was one ready by 2021, it would only be given to the most at-risk groups first, such as the elderly and NHS workers.
Epidemiologist Professor John Edmunds, who is part of the Government’s scientific advisory group, says a Covid-19 vaccine could be available worldwide in the next few months. But ‘we’re going to have to learn to live with this virus forever’ regardless
Number 10 has already bought 340million doses of seven different experimental jabs in the hope of one of them being proven to work. It includes the one created by Oxford University. Pictured: A volunteer getting a jab in Brazil
Answering questions at the Science and Technology and Health and Social Care committees today, Professor Edmunds said: ‘We are going to have to live with this virus for evermore.
‘There is very little chance that it’s going to become eradicated.
‘I think there’s so much investment in vaccines, of very different types, there’s a huge array of different vaccines that are being developed.
WHEN WILL A COVID-19 VACCINE BE READY
There are high hopes a Covid-19 vaccine will be doled out, at least for the most vulnerable people, by the end of winter or early 2021.
But not every scientists holds that view, and some are reluctant to give false promises.
At the end of September, the optimistic chief scientific adviser said Britain could still get its hand on a coronavirus vaccine before Christmas .
In televised address to the nation on September 21, he said: ‘It is possible that some vaccine could be available before the end of the year in small amounts for certain groups.’
But Sir Patrick admitted it is ‘more likely’ that a vaccine — which is likely to require two doses to work — will be ready for the nation ‘over the first half of next year’.
Professor Jeremy Farrar, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and Wellcome Trust director, also believes a Covid-19 vaccine and effective treatment will be ready in the first quarter of 2021.
England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty has erred on the side of caution. He has said a vaccine for the coronavirus may not be ready until next winter and that he’d be ‘surprised’ if we had one by this Christmas.
Professor Whitty told reporters on Saturday, August 12, it would be ‘foolish’ to plan for winter on the basis of having a vaccine but there was a ‘reasonable chance’ there could be one made available before the winter of 2021-2022.
He warned that going into winter there will be ‘real problems’ with Covid-19 and said that the country should plan on the basis of no vaccine being available.
Professor Peter Openshaw, from Imperial College London and an advisor to the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said in September he expected a nine-month gap between the vaccine’s discovery and it being made available to the public.
Because of this, he also doesn’t think a coronavirus vaccine will be available to the public until at least September 2021.
He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday September 13: ‘I do think that we will probably have a positive result of at least one of these vaccine trials, probably more than that, by Christmas.
‘And that means that with rapid scaling up we might have vaccination programmes that can roll out to some parts of the world in the next nine months.
‘Before the winter of 21/22 I hope that we should have vaccines that are effective.’
‘I think it’s an almost certainty we will have vaccines that help us to manage this epidemic in the not-too-distant future.’
When asked what the chances were of a vaccine being available this winter, he added: ‘Towards the end of winter – it’s certainly possible.
‘I think these things are moving at pace and of course it’s not just one vaccine being developed but many, many vaccines are being developed across the world.
‘The likelihood is that some of these will become available in the not-too-distant future.’
Professor Edmunds, who works at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the UK had played a ‘clever game’ by investing in so many vaccines before they are proven to work.
‘I think that’s the right thing to do,’ he said. ‘So I think we here in the UK, we will be in a reasonable position in months.’
Ministers have bought the largest amount of its jabs (100million), from pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, which is manufacturing Oxford University’s jab.
It has yet to be proven to work but early studies have shown it is promising. Scientists working on the Oxford vaccine have suggested it could be approved by regulators – who look over the data – before the start of next year.
Downing Street has also signed deals to buy vaccines made by BioNTech/Pfizer, Janssen, Novavax, GSK/Sanofi, and Valneva, if they are eventually proven to work.
A number of vaccine candidates have shown huge potential because in early trials, the jabs have shown to produce an immune response.
But if and when they show to be able to prevent a person from catching the coronavirus in the community, it will take some time for the jab to be
Professor Peter Openshaw, from Imperial College London and a member of SAGE, said last month he expected a nine-month gap between the vaccine’s discovery and it being made available to the public.
Professor Edmund said that it was unlikely that everyone will be vaccinated in the first roll-out.
It could start instead with people at high risk of severe Covid-19 outcomes and healthcare workers, he said.
Last month it was reported by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that care home residents were among those who should be at the top of the list for a jab when one becomes available.
Everyone over the age of 80 and NHS staff will be second in line, the updated government guidance stated.
The body, which consists of 20 top scientists, advises ministers on all vaccines. It admitted its guidance for any UK Covid-19 vaccination scheme is likely to change in the future.
Matt Hancock previously pledged that Britons with underlying conditions such as diabetes or heart disease would be near the front of the queue for any jab.
But millions living with ailments that raise their risk of dying of Covid-19 won’t be vaccinated until everyone over the age of 65 is inoculated, according to the new guidance.
The head of the country’s vaccine task-force Kate Bingham has previously admitted less than half of Britain will get vaccinated against Covid-19.
Experts say it is likely people will need two doses of each vaccine to be protected against the coronavirus.
Professor Edmunds said that with a vaccine potentially on the horizon, it was important to try to keep Covid-19 cases low.
‘In fact I think it’s very important to understand that actually vaccines are not that far away potentially now, and I think that does change what we should do now,’ he said.
‘If vaccines are just round the corner, in my view we should try to keep the incidence as low as we can now because we will be able to use vaccines in the not-too-distant future.’
But cases are currently rising across the UK, with more than 18,000 people being diagnosed a day, according to Government figures.
Professor Edmunds also confirmed to the committees that in September, SAGE had suggested a circuit-breaker lockdown to reduce cases.
This, he said, was so that cases were low enough for Test and Trace not to become overwhelmed.
In March, when the crisis spiralled out of control, contact tracing was abandoned because the system was not robust enough to cope. It has since been bolstered, but is still failing to reach around a third of Covid-19 case contacts.
Professor Edmunds said: ‘We were suggesting that a circuit-breaker might be put in place and other stringent measures in order to put the epidemic clock back, as it were, back to a time in, say, August… when the cases are low enough you are confident you can stamp out cases and you haven’t overwhelmed the Test and Trace system.’
WHICH VACCINES HAVE THE UK SECURED DEALS FOR?
1. GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur: 60million doses
The Government revealed on July 29 it had signed a deal with pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Sanofi Pasteur
If the vaccine proves successful, the UK could begin to vaccinate priority groups, such as frontline health and social care workers and those at increased risk from coronavirus, as early as the first half of next year, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said.
Human clinical studies of the vaccine will begin in September followed by a phase 3 study in December.
The vaccine is based on the existing technology used to produce Sanofi’s seasonal flu vaccine. Genetic material from the surface protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is inserted into insect cells – the basis of Sanofi’s influenza product – and then injected to provoke an immune response in a human patient.
2. AstraZeneca (manufacturing University of Oxford’s): 100million
AstraZeneca, which is working in partnership with Oxford University, is already manufacturing the experimental vaccine after a deal was struck on May 17.
Professor Sarah Gilbert, who is leading the Oxford team, is confident the jab could be ready for the most vulnerable people by the end of the year.
Her comments came after the results from the first phase, published in The Lancet on July 20, showed promise.
The team have genetically engineered a virus to look like the coronavirus – to have the same spike proteins on the outside – but be unable to cause any infection inside a person. This virus, weakened by genetic engineering, is a type of virus called an adenovirus, the same as those which cause common colds, that has been taken from chimpanzees.
3. BioNTech/Pfizer: 30million
US drug giant Pfizer – most famous for making Viagra – and German firm BioNTech were revealed to have secured a deal with the UK Government on July 20.
Pfizer’s vaccine is one called an mRNA vaccine, which do not directly inject bits of the virus into the body but send genetic material.
mRNA vaccines programme the body to produce parts of the virus itself by injecting the body with a molecule that tells disease-fighting cells what to build. The immune system then learns how to fight it.
4. Valneva: 60million
The Government has given Valneva — whose vaccine is understood to be in the preclinical stages of development — an undisclosed amount of money to expand its factory in Livingston, Scotland.
While the Government revealed a 60million dose deal on July 20, the company said it had reached agreement in principle with the UK government to provide up to 100million doses.
Valneva’s jab is an inactivated whole virus vaccine, meaning it injects a damaged version of the coronavirus itself into the body.
The virus has been destroyed in a way that makes it unable to cause infection, but the body still recognises it as a dangerous intruder and therefore mounts an immune response which it can remember in case of a real Covid-19 infection.
5. Janssen (Johnson & Johnson): 30million
The Government has agreed to buy 30million doses of a vaccine made by Janssen if it works.
Officials have agreed to help the company in its development of the jab by part-funding a global clinical trial. The first in-human trials of Janssen’s jab began in mid-July and are being done on adults over the age of 18 in the US and Belgium.
The jab is named Ad26.COV2-S, recombinant, and is a type of jab called a viral vector recombinant vaccine.
Proteins that appear on the outside of the coronavirus are reproduced in a lab and then injected into the body to stimulate an immune reaction.
The ‘Ad’ part of the vaccine’s name means it works using an adenovirus – a virus best known for causing the common cold – as a vehicle to transport the coronavirus genetics into the body.
6. Novavax: 60million
Britain has ordered 60million doses of a vaccine being developed by the US-based company Novavax. It will help to fund late-stage clinical trials in the UK and also boost plans to manufacture the vaccine in Britain.
Novavax’s jab, named NVX-CoV2373, showed positive results in early clinical trials.
It produced an immune response in 100 per cent of people who received it, the company said, and was safe and ‘generally well-tolerated’.
Novavax’s candidate is also a recombinant vaccine and transports the spike proteins found on the outside of the coronavirus into the body in order to provoke the immune system.
7. Imperial College London: Unknown quantity
Imperial College London scientists are working on Britain’s second home-grown hope for a jab. The candidate is slightly behind Oxford’s vaccine in terms of its progress through clinical trials, but is still a major player.
The UK Government is understood to have agreed to buy the vaccine if it works but details of a deal have not yet been publicised.
Imperial’s jab is currently in second-phase human trials after early tests showed it appeared to be safe.
Imperial College London will try to deliver genetic material (RNA) from the coronavirus which programs cells inside the patient’s body to recreate the spike proteins. It will transport the RNA inside liquid droplets injected into the bloodstream.