Oxford vaccine-trial chief sees ‘small chance’ of COVID-19 inoculations being ready by Christmas

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The University of Oxford hopes to present late-stage trial results by the end of the year, and there’s a “small chance” the experimental vaccine could be ready by Christmas, its chief investigator has said.

“I’m optimistic that we could reach that point before the end of this year,” Andrew Pollard, chief investigator of the Oxford Vaccine Trial, told the parliamentary Science and Technology Committee on Wednesday.

Asked if the experimental vaccine, which is being developed in collaboration with AstraZeneca AZN, +6.46%, would start to be deployed before Christmas, Pollard said: “There is a small chance of that being possible, but I just don’t know.”

“We are getting closer to [deployment], but we are not there yet,” Pollard cautioned, adding that the timeline remains uncertain as the data would need to be reviewed by regulators once the clinical trials have been presented.

He said there was a “huge amount of planning” taking place to establish how the vaccine would be distributed.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca AZN, 0.15% vaccine is one of two frontrunners currently in late-stage clinical trials in the U.K. and could be submitted for regulatory approval within weeks.

Read: AstraZeneca says its vaccine trials suggest a promising immune response in older adults — the group at highest risk of COVID-19

The second vaccine candidate in late-stage U.K. trials is being developed by Germany’s BioNTech BNTX, +3.97% along with its partner, the U.S. drug maker Pfizer PFE, +3.18%.

Shares in AstraZeneca closed 6.88% higher in London trading on Wednesday.

The U.K. has ordered more than 350 million doses from six different potential vaccine suppliers.

Read: U.K. signs deals with BioNTech, Pfizer and Valneva for COVID-19 vaccines

Kate Bingham, chairwoman of the U.K. Vaccine Taskforce, told the committee that around 4 million doses of the Oxford shot and 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine could be available by the end of the year.

MPs are debating the new four-week lockdown in England, which is aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. If approved, the new restrictions will come into force on Thursday.

Read: The entire city of Liverpool is set to be tested for COVID-19 in bid to break lockdown cycle

Pollard’s comments come as the chief executive of NHS England said the health service is preparing to be ready to administer a COVID-19 vaccine before Christmas, if one becomes available.

Simon Stevens told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program: “There are over 200 vaccines in development, and we believe that we should hopefully get one or more of those available from the first part of next year.”

Stevens said an “agreement” has been reached with general practitioners to ensure this will happen, adding: “We will be writing to GP practices this week to get them geared up to start by Christmas if the vaccine becomes available.”

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said that elderly residents in care homes and care-home workers should be the first to be given any approved vaccine.

His comments follow a report in the GP magazine Pulse on Tuesday that said that GPs are being place on standby to start vaccinating over-85s and frontline health workers from the beginning of next month.

However, Bingham has cautioned against “complacency and overoptimism.” Writing in medical journal the Lancet on Oct. 27, Bingham said: “We do not know that we will ever have a vaccine at all.”

She noted that the first generation of vaccines is likely to be imperfect, and “we should be prepared that they might not prevent infection but rather reduce symptoms and, even then, might not work for everyone or for long.”

On Monday, the former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Institute for Global Change published a report called “Light at the End of the Tunnel” that outlined a series of recommendations for government to consider to help avoid future lockdowns.

The four-point plan suggested accelerating deployment of therapeutic drugs and vaccines and mass testing using all available tests, together with the best data system globally accessible. This would “allow us in December to close off resurgence of Covid-19 when we come out of lockdown,” Blair wrote in the paper.

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