UK mass vaccination scheme ‘could be in place by summer,’ SAGE scientists says

Vaccines developments are coming thick and fast – raising optimism (Image: REUTERS)

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A SAGE advisor has there is "lots to be optimistic about" as he suggested that a mass vaccine programme could be in place by next summer.

Professor Calum Semple, who sits on the government's science advice group, said he expected vaccines to be "phased out" over Christmas and New Year to the most vulnerable. 

Prof Semple also added that the UK faced a "very difficult balancing act" when it comes to deciding how much to relax restrictions over Christmas.

But that changes in the rules were necessary because people simply would not pay attention to restrictions which would mean not seeing their families.

He added that "we cannot ban Christmas" but if the UK relaxes restrictions over the festive period "there will be a price for that".

“Nationally we are seeing cases in the community fall and in those areas that went into Tier 3 before lockdown we are already seeing the tide turning with the number of hospital admissions and we will shortly see the deaths reduce as well.”

Calum Semple, Professor of Outbreak Medicine at the University of Liverpool is a member of SAGE
(Image: Liverpool ECHO)

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He also suggested that if the vaccine scheme was in place we might see an end of some of the social distancing restrictions by the summer.

In a tweet after his interview, he added: "I'm first to say this is speculation and assumes that we have good vaccination in our most vulnerable groups and the rest of society has learnt to reduce transmission through behavioural change."

Professor Semple's comments come after a leaked NHS document suggested that all adults in England – of any age – could start to be vaccinated against Covid-19 before the end of January if supplies allow.

Under the plan, every adult who wants a jab could be vaccinated by early April.

Pfizer together with its partner BioNTech is expected to receive US approval for its vaccine within days, with the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) also assessing the data for potential approval.

At a Downing Street press conference on Friday evening, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced he had formally asked the MHRA to assess the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for use in the UK.

Mr Hancock has also said the military and NHS staff were on standby to roll out a coronavirus vaccine across the UK from the start of December, and will work “seven days a week” to do so.

It will be delivered through care homes, GPs and pharmacists, as well as “go-to” vaccination centres set up in venues such as sports halls.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has asked regulators to look at the Pfizer vaccine
(Image: PA)

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It came as it was announced that England will enter a tougher three-tiered system of local coronavirus restrictions when the national lockdown ends on December 2, Downing Street has said.

Boris Johnson is expected to detail his plan for winter to MPs on Monday as he sets out how people can see their loved ones at Christmas.

The “Covid winter plan” is expected to place more areas into the higher tiers to keep the virus under control to ensure further restrictions are not needed, No 10 said.

The tiers are expected to be strengthened to safeguard the gains made during the national lockdown but it is understood that the controversial 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants will be altered under the new system.

The Prime Minister is expected to say that, while last orders must be called at 10pm, people will get an extra hour to finish their food and drinks with opening hours to be extended until 11pm.

The Cabinet is expected to discuss and sign off the plan on Sunday before Mr Johnson announces it to Parliament the following day.

While he will set out how people will be able to spend their Christmas, ministers have made clear that the festive season will be different to normal, with some restrictions expected to remain in place.

Ministers will detail what tier each area will be placed into on Thursday and MPs are expected to be given the vote to approve the new system, as promised by Mr Johnson, in the days before it comes into force on December 2.

They are optimistic that restrictions can be gradually reduced in the run-up to spring. Providing vaccines are approved by regulators, the plan is for the rollout to begin next month before a wider programme in the new year.

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