UK needs ‘full toolbox’ of vaccines and several are on the way, scientist says
By Jane Kirby, PA Health Editor
The UK needs “a toolbox as full as possible” of different vaccines and several may come on stream shortly, a scientist leading the development of a British jab has said.
Professor Robin Shattock, from Imperial College London, said vaccines are “exceptionally safe” and the UK needs a range because some may work better in different age groups or among those with underlying health conditions.
He said he is “really hopeful” Oxford University and AstraZeneca’s vaccine will report its results soon, with others following shortly afterwards.
He told BBC Breakfast: “The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, we anticipate that there may be a result anytime soon, before Christmas.
“And there are a number of other vaccines that may come through shortly after that.
“All these vaccines will have different levels of immunity and may be useful for different populations, so we need as many vaccines as possible to be able to combat this pandemic, and make them globally available.”
The Imperial College vaccine Prof Shattock is working on uses a similar technology to that of Pfizer and BioNTech, whose interim data on Monday showed their jab can prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid-19.
Responding to Pfzer’s news, Prof Shattock said: “It’s still early but this the first evidence this is a vaccine-preventable disease and that is a big boon to everybody working on vaccines.”
Asked at which stage the Imperial vaccine is at, Prof Shattock said: “We’re using a similar technology, it’s RNA-based.
“Ours is slightly different because it has an amplification process that means we can use a lower dose.
“We’re selecting the final dose next month and then we’re ready to go into large efficacy testing in the UK, with the potential of going for approval (from regulators) in the summer.”
Asked how scientists know whether vaccines are safe for people with underlying health conditions, Prof Shattock said their safety in these groups will be closely monitored.
“That’s another reason why we need a range of vaccines, because some vaccines may work better in people with different underlying conditions,” he said.
“It’s important to have a toolbox as full as possible, so we can make sure there is something that works for everybody.”
Prof Shattock also sought to reassure people generally that vaccines are safe, saying the long-term side-effects of Covid-19 are “way more dramatic” than those from a vaccine.
He said: “The current vaccine, the Pfizer vaccine, has been studied in 43,000 individuals, so we know it’s safe in terms of it doesn’t cause any acute problems.
“Long-term side-effects will be studied for the next two years. I think they are likely to be rare, but it’s something that will be followed very carefully.
“It’s always worth putting it in context – the long-term side-effects of Covid-19 are way more dramatic than anything that we get from a vaccine.
“When you’re balancing that risk, obviously it’s going to prevent you from getting Covid-19, and it’s going to prevent you from all the risks of long Covid, or serious illness.
“That equation is very clear in my mind. Vaccines are exceptionally safe medicines and they prevent really serious disease.”
Elsewhere, GPs have said they will need support to deliver the Covid-19 vaccination programme as health bosses acknowledged some other family doctor services may need to be scaled back.
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said existing pressures mean family doctors will need help from colleagues to manage the vaccination programme, which is set to be ready to roll out from December 1.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it is right that GPs are at the heart of vaccination, but added: “We can’t do everything with the current resources.
“The issue here is mostly about the staff.
“We can’t do the usual things that we do in general practice, looking after acutely-ill patients, dealing with people who might have cancer, dealing with people who have long-term conditions, continuing to deliver immunisation, other immunisation programmes, at the same time as delivering the vaccine, without having extra staff.”
Asked if this means GPs will not be able to help patients without extra resources, Prof Marshall said: “Let me clarify, we’re saying that we have to continue to look after patients who have the health problems that I have described, that is absolutely essential.
“General practice can’t shut up shop, because we’re such an important part of the NHS.
“The question is, how do we get the staff in to allow us to continue to do those things.”
NHS England has told the country’s 1,250 primary care networks to designate a single practice to administer vaccines in their area capable of delivering vaccines from 8am to 8pm, including on bank holidays if needed.
But in a letter to GPs, Dr Nikki Kanani, NHS England’s medical director for primary care, acknowledged doctors may have to prioritise what they do.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Tuesday he expects GPs to play a big role in administering any coronavirus vaccine, alongside pharmacists and other health professionals.
He said the military and NHS staff are on standby to roll out a Covid-19 vaccine across the UK from the start of December and will work “seven days a week”.
The UK Government has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine – enough for about a third of the UK population.
It expects 10 million of these doses to arrive in the UK before the end of this year, with people given two doses, 21 days apart.
Elsewhere, it has been confirmed that university students in England will be allowed to travel home in early December so families can be reunited for Christmas.
Institutions have been told by the Department for Education to end in-person teaching and switch to online classes so they can return home between December 3 and 9.
Under the new guidance, universities must set staggered departure dates during the “student travel window” so they can safely return home.
It is hoped the risk of transmission will be reduced as students will be travelling after the four-week period of national restrictions in England.