Boris Johnson has urged the nation to not start celebrating the news of a potential effective Covid vaccine and that the “distant bugle of the scientific cavalry” was still “some way off”.
Johnson said at a press conference this afternoon that the UK would wait until Pfizer and BioNTech release the safety data around the vaccine before making any safety and regulatory assessments.
“I must stress that these are very early days,” Johnson said.
“We’ve talked for a long time, or I have, about the distant bugle of the scientific cavalry coming over the brow of the hill – I can tell you tonight the toot of that bugle is louder, but it’s still some way off.
“We absolutely cannot rely on this news as a solution and the biggest mistake we could make now is slacken our resolve at a critical moment.”
Pfizer and BioNTech announced today that its joint vaccine trial has a 90 per cent success rate – well above the threshold thought to be needed for regulators to approve it.
The companies said units of the vaccine could be administered before the end of the year pending regulatory approval in individual countries.
The UK has ordered 40m doses of the vaccine, with 10m potentially coming before the end of the year.
Johnson said that the vaccine required two doses, so the 40m would only cover one-third of the population.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam that today was a “really very important scientific breakthrough” and that he was “hopeful” that the vaccine could be administered before Christmas.
“The next step is to see the safety data and I imagine that will come in the next few days,” he said.
“Safety is every bit, in fact I would say it’s more important than, vaccine effectiveness.”
Van Tam said that Britain’s oldest residents, along with care home workers, will be prioritised for vaccine access if the trial gets regulatory approval.
He added that today’s news about a potential vaccine will not affect the country’s current coronavirus restrictions.
“We don’t know what this means for getting life back to normal, about lifting some of the restrictions we live under,” he said.
“I don’t see the vaccine making any difference for the wave we are now in.
“I’m hopeful it may prevent future waves, but this one we have to battle through to the end without vaccine.”