England’s chief medical officer has warned it is unlikely there will be an “effective and safe” coronavirus vaccine before the winter of 2021.
Professor Chris Whitty said this winter would see “real problems” with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and that the UK should assume no vaccine would be available.
Instead, he said there was a “reasonable chance” that a vaccine could be available for the winter of 2021-22.
Whitty added: “I would obviously be delighted if it came earlier rather than later but I’d be quite surprised if we had a highly effective vaccine ready for mass use in a large percentage of the population before the end of winter, certainly before this side of Christmas.
“Now that may be wrong – a lot of people are doing a huge amount scientifically, logistically to make sure that’s a pessimistic statement, to try and see if we can get a vaccine at an extraordinarily fast speed but we have to check it works and we have to make sure it’s safe and these things do take time.
“So I think if we look forward a year I think the chances are much greater than if we look forward six months and we need to have that sort of timescale in mind. So planning for the next winter, it would be foolish to plan on the basis we will have a vaccine.”
Continuing “We should plan on the basis we will not have a vaccine and then if one does prove to be effective and safe and available then we’re in a strong position to be able to use it and that will be great but we should be planning on the basis of what we currently have.”
He said he was “confident” in the ability of science “to get us out of this hole”, but added: “I don’t think we can expect it to happen in the next few weeks or even the next few months.”
It comes as the UK records a further 1,288 positive tests for the virus as of 4 pm on Saturday. Some 834 patients are in hospital, 97 of them admitted in the past 24 hours.
Seventy-two people are on ventilators and 18 deaths were recorded during those 24 hours of people who had tested positive within the previous 28 days.
There have been 41,423 deaths in the UK so far, according to government figures.
Earlier, Whitty had joined the UK’s other chief and deputy chief medical officers in a joint statement about schools reopening.
He warned that the risk of COVID-19 to children was dwarfed by the “certainty of long-term harm” caused by continued school closures.