Doctors are being readied to inoculate other medics and the most vulnerable Britons seven days a week over midwinter.
Another 3,000 mobile units will speed across the nation to deliver the cure to care homes and those in high-risk categories.
It comes as Pfizer and Oxford University have entered into their final stages of testing with data suggesting a jab could be deployed ‘within weeks’.
Oxford’s coronavirus jab could still be available by Christmas – but taskforce chief says only four million doses will be available for key workers at first (stock image)
Richard Vautrey, British Medical Association GP committee chairman, told The Sun that Christmas Day jabs were a possibility.
The Government is preparing for a dedicated vaccination centre in every major city, according to the paper.
Nightingale hospitals to become mass vaccination centres
The NHS is preparing to ‘fire the starting gun’ whenever a Covid-19 vaccine is ready to be rolled out, the head of the health service has said.
Sir Simon Stevens said a potential vaccination programme will see vaccines delivered at GP surgeries, pharmacies and mass testing centres – including at the Nightingale hospitals.
GPs will be put on standby from December should a vaccine be made available before Christmas, the NHS chief executive said.
But the ‘expectation’ is that any vaccination programme would begin in the new year – pending positive results from the vaccine clinical trials.
Seven Nightingale hospitals were built during the first wave of the pandemic but five of them went unused.
They were eventually mothballed when not enough Covid-19 patients were going to hospitals over summer but have since been put on standby.
GP magazine Pulse reported on Tuesday that family doctors will be told to be prepared to start vaccinating over-85s and frontline workers from early December.
Sir Simon told a press conference: ‘Our expectation is that it will be the start of next year when the bulk of vaccine becomes available, assuming that the Phase 3 trials produce positive results.
‘We are obviously planning on the off-chance that there is some vaccine available before Christmas.’
Some vaccines need to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, he said, adding: ‘So it’s going to be a combination of what GPs are able to do, what community pharmacists are able to do, but also mass vaccination centres, which is one of the purposes we will be using the Nightingale Hospitals for, and other locations as well.
‘There will be roving teams who will prioritise care homes and social care staff and other vulnerable groups.
‘But the bulk of this is going to be the other side of Christmas, but we want to be ready.’
Kate Bingham, chairwoman of the government’s vaccine task force, said earlier this week that the inoculations had the ‘possibility of being ready before the end of the year.’
But she warned that only four million doses of the Oxford vaccine would be manufactured by Christmas – with ten million doses of the Pfizer vaccine potentially being available by January.
The estimate, which falls short of the Government’s suggestion in May that 30 million doses could be supplied by September, would mean that mass deployment among NHS workers and the elderly would not yet be achievable.
Ms Bingham, the UK’s vaccine tsar, has arranged to buy six different vaccines, amounting to more than 350 million doses, but there is no guarantee that any will work.
They will all also have to be submitted for approval by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) but it is not yet known how long this will take.
Professor Andrew Pollard, from Oxford university, agreed that there was ‘a small chance’ its vaccine would be ready before Christmas.
He said: ‘The first step is to reach the point where we can do an analysis and find out whether or not the vaccine works.
‘I’m optimistic that we could reach that point before the end of this year.’
Earlier today NHS England boss Sir Simon Stevens said the health service was ready and on standby to deliver a mass Covid vaccination programme by Christmas. He claimed GP surgeries, pharmacies and testing centres — including at the mothballed Nightingale hospitals — were preparing to ‘fire the starting gun’.
The Government announced over summer a deal had been struck with AstraZeneca — the pharmaceutical firm which owns the rights to Oxford’s vaccine — to dish out 30million doses by September if it was proven to be effective.
Both Professor Pollard and Ms Bingham warned the first wave of vaccines would not be good enough to allow society to immediately return to normal, scuppering Boris Johnson’s promise that ‘life will return to normal next summer’.
The pair made the comments at a virtual House of Commons Science and Technology Committee today.
When Ms Bingham was asked by MPs if a vaccine could wipe out Covid-19 next year, she said: ‘Well, to wipe out coronavirus, I think [the likelihood is] very slim.
‘But to get a vaccine that has an effect both reducing illness and reducing mortality? Very high.’
Number 10 revealed in May it planned to have 30million doses of Oxford University’s jab — the current global front-runner — ready for deployment by September if it proved to work.
The announcement at the time — when the country was in the midst of the catastrophic first wave — aimed to signal to the public Britain would be prepared to mass vaccinate as soon as the jab was approved.
Chairwoman of the government’s vaccine task force Kate Bingham (left) and Oxford University’s Professor Andrew Pollard (right)
But Ms Bingham said Britain only had doses in the ‘low millions’ at the moment and would only be able to deliver about 4million by the end of the year, if regulators approve it by then.
She said: ‘That 30million doses [announcement] was assuming a linear yield on scale-up.
‘So what happens is when you start at manufacturing these vaccines, you start at test tube levels and scale up sequentially ultimately until you get to one or two thousand litres [of the liquid which the vaccine lives in].
‘So the projections that were made in good faith at the time to get to 30million doses in September was assuming that absolutely everything would work and there would be no hiccups at all in terms of how you scale up.
‘And it hasn’t gone linearly — and it’s not through lack of attention or availability of equipment or anything like that — it’s just this normally takes a very long time.
‘So the answer [to whether 30m doses will be ready by September] is no.’
Ms Bingham said if she puts on ‘rose-tinted specs’ she would hope to see positive interim data from both Oxford and Pfizer BioNtech — another promising vaccine candidate — on their jabs in early December.
‘And if we get that then I think we’ve got a possibility of deploying by year-end,’ she said. Though only a couple of million Britons — likely the very elderly — will have access.
In another blow to vaccine hopes, Ms Bingham said she only has 50 per cent confidence that a vaccine will be available to every vulnerable group in the UK by Easter.
Professor Andrew Pollard, who is the head of Oxford’s vaccine trial team, agreed that he was optimistic that the data on safety and efficacy of his jab will be available by the end of the year.
But he said there was only a ‘small chance’ of a vaccine being made available by Christmas.
Asked if the jab could be deployed before Christmas, Professor Pollard said: ‘I think it’s very difficult to answer the question because first of all we have to do the analyses to find out whether they work, and if they do, then there are steps that have to be gone through and the timelines for those are not exactly clear to me at the moment.
‘I think there is a small chance of that being possible but I just don’t know.’
It normally takes years for vaccines to be green-lit by the UK’s drugs watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and a similar body in the EU. Regulators must pore over data to make sure jabs will be safe and effective to dish out to millions of people.
Boris Johnson said over summer that British life won’t return to normal until summer next year when a vaccine comes to the rescue.
But, tempering vaccine expectations further, Professor Pollard told the Commons committee the first wave of jabs were unlikely to be good enough for leaders to drop all social distancing rules.
He said that a vaccine that is at least 50 per cent effective could ‘halve the number of deaths or hospitalisations here in the UK’ which would be ‘a dramatic change from where we are today’
‘But, unfortunately, it does not mean that we can all get back to normal immediately because it takes time to roll out vaccines, not everyone will take them, and we will still have people getting this virus.’
Meanwhile, Professor Robin Shattock, who is leading Imperial College London’s Covid-19 vaccine effort, added that the world would be living with the consequences of coronavirus ‘for many years to come’.
He said: ‘I think it is unrealistic to expect that the UK Government or the country will wake up and hear there is a vaccine that is successful and life gets back to normal immediately.
‘We are likely to be living with the consequences of this virus for many years to come – even though vaccines will make life that much much better and reduce, hopefully, fatalities and serious illness significantly.’
WHAT PROGRESS IS BEING MADE WITH COVID-19 VACCINES?
Covid-19 vaccines could be rolled out in the UK within the first half of next year, with the NHS to prepare itself to deliver doses by Christmas ‘if they become available’.
After successful trials, vaccines could be rolled out at GP surgeries, pharmacies and mass testing centres.
But health chiefs say a mass vaccination programme is unlikely to get under way before next year.
There are currently more than 200 coronavirus vaccine candidates being tested around the world.
Here is everything you need to know about the race to get a Covid-19 vaccine.
What progress is being made with Covid-19 vaccines?
A total of 44 of the vaccine candidates in development are at clinical trial stage.
Of these, nine are in the phase three stage of clinical evaluation and are being given to thousands of people to confirm safety and effectiveness.
There are two frontrunners in the Covid-19 vaccine race – one from German biotech firm BioNtech and US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, and another being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca.
Both vaccines are currently in phase three clinical trials.
The Oxford vaccine, called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, uses a weakened version of a common cold virus (adenovirus) which causes infections in chimpanzees.
Other potential vaccines in phase three trials include ones by US drugs firm Moderna and biotech company Novavax.
What trials are ongoing in the UK?
Aside from the Oxford vaccine, a coronavirus jab is being developed by Imperial College London.
The Imperial vaccine is in phase one of clinical testing, where doses are being given to a small group of people to determine whether it is safe and to learn more about the immune response it provokes.
Pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline have also teamed up with the hope of making a Covid-19 vaccine available by the middle of next year.
The Sanofi/GSK candidate is in the phase two stage, where the vaccine is being given to hundreds of people so scientists can learn more about its safety and correct dosage.
They plan to begin phase three trial by the end of the year.
When will the results from these trials be available?
The head of the UK’s vaccines taskforce, Kate Bingham, said data from the vaccine trials at the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, and Pfizer with BioNTech, could be available this year.
She said if she puts on ‘rose-tinted specs’ she would hope to see positive interim data from both Oxford and Pfizer BioNtech in early December.
Professor Andrew Pollard, head of Oxford’s vaccine trial team, said he is optimistic data on safety and efficacy of their vaccine will be available by the end of the year.
Professor Robin Shattock, who is leading Imperial College London’s Covid-19 vaccine effort, said data on its efficacy will be available in the middle of next year.
Does the UK have access to any of these potential vaccines?
In August, the Government announced the UK has secured access to six Covid-19 vaccine candidates in development, representing 340 million doses.
Ms Bingham said there should be about four million vaccine doses available by the end of the year.
The UK has also secured 30 million doses of the vaccine being developed by BioNtech and Pfizer.
The deals cover four different types of vaccines – adenoviral vaccines, mRNA vaccines, inactivated whole virus vaccines and protein adjuvant vaccines.
Adenoviral vaccines are weakened versions of adenoviruses, while mRNA candidates are made up of small or inactivated doses of the whole disease-causing organism.
Inactivated whole virus vaccines, on the other hand, contain whole bacteria or viruses which have been killed, while protein adjuvant jabs are those where an adjuvant is added to enhance the immune response.
Should any of these candidates be approved, the most vulnerable, the elderly, people living in care homes, and health and social care staff will be front of the queue to receive a jab, followed by those who are high at risk.
When will a coronavirus vaccine become available?
A vaccine usually takes years, often decades, to develop but scientists working on potential coronavirus jabs are hoping to achieve the same amount of work in a few months.
Most experts are optimistic that a vaccine is likely to become available by mid-2021, which would be around 12-18 months after the new coronavirus first emerged.
NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said the ‘expectation’ is that any vaccination programme would begin in the new year – pending positive results from clinical trials.
Meanwhile, Ms Bingham said she has 50% confidence that by Easter or early summer next year, all vulnerable people in the country will have a vaccine.
Prof Pollard said clinical trials would need to take place in the child population before Covid-19 vaccines can be given to youngsters.
He said: ‘Those trials are being planned, but at the moment we do not have any data about immune response or the safety of children, and so that is something which has to be done through the normal scientific process, and I would anticipate that that will happen towards the end of this year or during the early part of next year.’
Where will the vaccines be administered?
Sir Simon said a potential vaccination programme will see vaccines delivered at GP surgeries, pharmacies and mass testing centres – including at the Nightingale hospitals.
He said GPs will be put on standby from December should a vaccine be made available before Christmas.