OXFORD'S Covid vaccine is could be rolled out before Christmas – with 4million doses sat ready to be used.
Professor Sarah Gilbert, a lead scientist working on the jab, said the chances of the first vaccinations before the end of the year are “pretty likely”.
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The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) are reviewing data from the huge clinical trials that took place worldwide to conclude if the jab is safe and effective.
Should they give the green light, four million doses have already been manufactured by the drug giant AstraZeneca and are ready to be doled out.
The UK Government has secured a deal for 100 million doses overall, enough to vaccinate 50 million people.
AstraZeneca said it expects that 70 million of these will be rolled out by the end of March next year – enough to vaccinate 35 million Britons, The Independent reported.
The jab would be the second in the UK’s armoury against Covid – the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is the only one currently approved for use in the UK.
When asked about the chances of receiving the jab by the end of the year, Prof Gilbert told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “It depends on the age group you’re in and the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) prioritisations.
“I think the chances are pretty high.”
But she stressed that multiple vaccines – made using different technologies – will be needed to tackle the pandemic.
“All countries need multiple vaccines, the world needs multiple vaccines and we need vaccines made using different technologies, if that's possible.”
Prof Gilbert said how people behave over Christmas could impact on the vaccination programme, because if the coronavirus is spreading, nurses and doctors may be off sick.
She said: “What we’ve seen in the US is that after Thanksgiving, when people were travelling and mixing, there’s now been a big surge in infections and they’re seeing 3,000 deaths a day now – the highest rate there’s ever been in any country.
"If we have that kind of thing happening over the Christmas holidays in this country, with very high transmission rates then possible in January, it’s going to take so much longer to get things back to normal.
“Because partly all the vaccination clinics will be disrupted. It’s not possible to run vaccination clinics when staff are off sick, and there’s a very high transmission rate affecting people’s ability to come to be vaccinated.
“So I think what we do over the next few weeks is really going to have a big impact on how long it’s going to take to get back to the normal.”
Prof Gilbert added: “Hopefully we could be more or less back to normal by the summer, but that’s not going to be possible if we’re starting from a very bad position in January.”
Prof Gilbert, who is the lead researcher on the Oxford Vaccine Development Programme, said that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine had shown “strong protection” against severe disease.
No one given the jab got severe symptoms or needed to go to hospital 21 days after the second dose.
There was also “some information” about the ability to prevent people carrying the virus without symptoms, which will be important for stopping the spread.
How does the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine work?
The vaccine – called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 – uses a harmless, weakened version of a common virus which causes a cold in chimpanzees.
Researchers have already used this technology to produce vaccines against a number of pathogens including flu, Zika and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers).
The virus is genetically modified so that it is impossible for it to grow in humans.
Scientists have transferred the genetic instructions for coronavirus's specific "spike protein" – which it needs to invade cells – to the vaccine.
When the vaccine enters cells inside the body, it uses this genetic code to produce the surface spike protein of the coronavirus.
This induces an immune response, priming the immune system to attack coronavirus if it infects the body.
It differs from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines because they use messenger RNA technology (mRNA).
Conventional vaccines are produced using weakened forms of the virus, but mRNAs use only the virus's genetic code.
An mRNA vaccine is injected into the body where it enters cells and tells them to create antigens.
These antigens are recognised by the immune system and prepare it to fight coronavirus.
No actual virus is needed to create an mRNA vaccine. This means the rate at which the vaccine can be produced is accelerated
Final trial results of the jab were published in The Lancet last week, after being announced by the makers on November 23.
Interim results from pooled studies show the vaccine was 70.4 per cent effective, on average, in preventing coronavirus after two doses were given.
For people given two full doses of the jab in one study, the vaccine was 62.1 per cent effective.
In a study where people received a half dose followed by a full dose, the vaccine was 90 per cent effective.
It will be up to the MHRA to decide what dosing regimen to use, and the JCVi to decide who will receive it.
The vaccine has a number of benefits compared to the Pfizer/BioNTech jab that started being given to Britons last week.
It costs just £2 a dose and can be stored at regular fridge temperatures – unlike the Pfizer jab which needs to be at minus 70C.
Family doctors join the roll-out
Already thousands of Britons have been given the Pfizer jab, which was approved by regulators on December 2.
In the next phase of the roll-out, hundreds of coronavirus vaccine centres across England are set open in hours as GPs get ready to inoculate the most vulnerable.
The centres will be run by local doctors who will receive the jabs this morning, with most GPs opening their clinics later this afternoon.
First in line will be those over the age of 80 as well as care home residents.
This will be followed by other elderly groups and those who are in the clinically extremely vulnerable group.
NHS England and NHS Improvement said the majority of GPs will begin providing vaccination services to their local community from Tuesday.
Meanwhile, care home residents in Scotland are due to receive the vaccine for the first time on Monday.
How many vaccines does the UK have?
The UK has secured access to the following vaccines:
– 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine
– 60 million doses of the Novavax vaccine
– Some 30 million doses from Janssen
– 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – the first and only vaccine that has been given approval in the UK so far
– 60 million doses of a vaccine being developed by Valneva
– 60 million doses of protein adjuvant vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Sanofi Pasteur
– Seven million doses of the jab on offer from Moderna in the US.
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