The UK is hopeful of rolling out a coronavirus vaccine 'soon after Christmas'

By Adam Payne

The UK government hopes that a coronavirus vaccine will be available by December, say reports.

England's deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, this week told members of Parliament that the vaccine being developed at Oxford University with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca could be available to high-priority groups in time for the New Year, according to The Times of London newspaper.

He reportedly told MPs: "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."

An MP who attended who briefing told the newspaper that Van-Tam was "very bullish about the third stage AstraZeneca results, which he expects between the end of this month and the end of next."

If a vaccine is developed, Boris Johnson's government plans to initially offer it to the elderly, the vulnerable, and key workers to reduce the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths significantly. Van-Tam reportedly told MPs that this would make it much harder for young people infected with the virus to pass it on to more at-risk people.

Thousands of National Health Service staff will receive training in vaccination before the end of the year, The Times of London report said.

Professor Van-Tam's comments come as the UK confronts a second spike of the virus, with Johnson's government enforcing an array of local lockdowns in a bid to tackle soaring numbers of new infections across the country. 

The UK prime minister this week urged MPs to temper their expectations over a virus, warning them that failure to develop a vaccine for Sars shows "it cannot be taken for granted."

Asked by Conservative MP Steve Baker on Monday to provide a specific timeline for the development of a vaccine, Johnson said: "Alas, I can't give him a date by which I can promise confidently that we will have a vaccine.

"There are some very hopeful signs, not least from the Oxford AstraZeneca trials that are being conducted.

"But, as he knows, Sars took place 18 years ago, we still don't have a vaccine for Sars. I don't wish to depress him, but we must be realistic about this.

"There is a good chance of a vaccine, but it cannot be taken for granted."

Until and unless a vaccine is developed, Johnson's government hopes that upgrading the UK's testing regime plus the development of new therapeutic treatments will make it easier to suppress the virus and reduce the need for harsh lockdown restrictions.