Leading medicine professor says COVID vaccines could be rolled out in months
Prof Peter Openshaw says: “I’m really quite optimistic. I think there is light at the end of the tunnel”
It comes as government backs new study which deliberately exposes participants to virus
There is “light at the end of the tunnel” for a coronavirus vaccine, a leading professor has said.
Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said he is expecting UK vaccine studies to start reporting back before Christmas.
He added a “limited” number of vaccines could be rolled out for high-risk people within months.
It comes after the government also announced £33m backing for so-called human challenge studies, where a small number of young and healthy participants will be purposefully exposed to COVID-19.
This will be to establish the smallest amount of virus it takes to cause COVID but not serious illness. It is hoped these studies will help speed up vaccine development.
Prof Openshaw, who will be a co-investigator on this project, was asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme when there could be a vaccine.
“I’m really quite optimistic,” he said.
“I think there is light at the end of the tunnel, in that there are so many trials of vaccines going on under very, very well-controlled conditions.
“I would be surprised if some of those vaccine studies don’t report this side of Christmas.”
Kate Bingham, head of the UK’s vaccine taskforce, also said last week that there is a “slim” possibility of vaccines being available before Christmas.
Watch: Slim possibility of vaccines by Christmas, says head of government taskforce
Prof Openshaw, meanwhile, pointed out some vaccines have been “pre-batched ready for distribution” in the event they are confirmed to be effective.
He continued: “So I think that [there] will be limited stocks of vaccine which are going to be available for the most high-risk people in the early part of next year.
“But of course there won’t be sufficient vaccine to roll out a full vaccination programme, we need to take it stepwise and be cautious.”
However, the government’s chief scientific adviser has warned any vaccine is highly unlikely to stop the virus completely.
Read more: The one thing that could ‘change the game’ for tackling COVID in Europe, according to WHO
Speaking to a House of Lords committee on Monday, Sir Patrick Vallance pointed out only one disease – smallpox – has ever been completely eradicated.
He said that in future, treating COVID may become more like seasonal flu.
Sir Patrick told the committee: “I think it is unlikely that we will end up with a truly sterilising vaccine that completely stops infection.
“It is likely that this disease will circulate and be endemic.”
Bingham also warned earlier this month that less than half the UK’s population will receive a vaccine if one is found.
She told the Financial Times: “There’s going to be no vaccination of people under 18. It’s an adult-only vaccine, for people over 50, focusing on health workers and care home workers and the vulnerable.”
Watch: What is herd immunity?