The first coronavirus vaccines have rolled off a production line, raising hopes that a global fightback against the pandemic could soon be under way.
US pharma giant Pfizer’s factory in Puurs, Belgium, has made hundreds of thousands of doses ready for use if clinical trials prove successful.
It means the firm has nosed ahead of rival developers in the race for a jab.
But Government chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned it is “unlikely” a vaccine will be available for widespread use until next spring.
Giving evidence to the joint Commons and Lords National Security Strategy Committee, he added that even then, it will not stop Covid-19 completely.
Sir Patrick said only one disease – smallpox – had ever been completely eradicated and treating Covid-19 may become more like seasonal flu.
He said: “It is unlikely we will end up with a truly sterilising vaccine.”
Sir Patrick said it will become clear in the next few months whether there are any vaccines that do protect us – and for how long.
He added that while a number of candidates cause an immune response, only Phase 3 trials – the most advanced – will indicate if they stop people being infected.
Pfizer hopes to produce 100 million doses of its vaccine this year with 40 million heading to the UK. Every patient who gets it will need two.
Vaccines normally take years of testing and trials to develop but scientists hope to fast-track a serum.
More than 40 are getting human clinical trials and another 156 are in the pre-clinical stages of development.
Those at Phase 3 include versions by a US-German collaboration between BioNTech and Pfizer, the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, US biotech firm Moderna, US-based Johnson & Johnson and Chinese Sinopharm and Sinovac.
The United Kingdom
Trials have been taking place at Oxford University, Imperial College, London, Cambridge and Leeds.
Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, has said the jab being created in Oxford and made by AstraZeneca could be available around the turn of the year.
But this trial was paused after a participant had an adverse reaction.
Working with the Vaccines Taskforce, US firm Novavax is doing Phase 3 trials of the NVX-CoV2373 vaccine in areas including Leeds.
More than 250,000 have volunteered to take part in vaccine trials. The UK has also signed supply agreements for millions of doses with Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline/Sanofi Pasteur and France’s Valneva SE.
Kate Bingham, chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, has said there will initially be a “limited supply”. She also said it was “very unlikely” the disease would be defeated by a single jab.
And TV doctor Sara Kayat warned: “We also need to be aware that it won’t be successful in everybody”
The UK has signed up to the World Health Organisation’s international “COV-access agreement”, which aims to ensure people around the world get equal access to any newly developed vaccines. Other signatories include France, South Africa and Malaysia.
The UK has also joined Covax, a UN scheme again aimed at getting vaccines to poorer countries. China has also signed up but the US has not.
Manufacturing and delivery in the UK
The Government and Valneva are developing a facility in Livingston, West Lothian, to mass-produce the vaccine. And the new Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre is under construction in Oxfordshire.
According to The Economist, seven venues have been earmarked as “Nightingale Vaccination Centres” where jabs could be administered.
These include Leeds Town Hall, a Hull University sports centre and the Copper Box Arena in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
The very Trumpian-sounding Operation Warp Speed aims to produce and deliver 300million doses of safe and effective vaccines starting in January.
President Donald Trump had been promising a vaccine before the election, hoping to boost his electoral fortunes. There had been fears a jab could be rushed into production before being proved safe.
But despite beginning manufacturing, Pfizer has now said it will not know if its vaccine is effective by the end of this month – and will not have the legally required safety data necessary for the US Food and Drug Administration until the end of November.
Last week, a 60,000-person vaccine study by Johnson & Johnson was paused when participants had an “unexpected illness”.
This week, hundreds of people in Yiwu, in eastern China, queued for a jab at £45 a time – although it has not yet finished clinical trials.
Health officials have publicly pledged that an effective vaccine will be available by the end of the year. They have also committed to sharing vaccines with over a dozen nations.
China has 11 vaccines in clinical trials and many experts think it will win the global race.
Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The Chinese vaccine looks very likely to be licensed in November or approved at least. China’s in the lead at the moment to get a vaccine out.”
Last week, Russian trolls were blamed for fake news that the Oxford vaccine would turn people into chimpanzees. This was not the first time Russia hit the headlines over vaccines.
In August, President Vladimir Putin said Russia had won the race for a jab with the production of Sputnik V at Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute. It was given to one of his daughters, despite not having Phase 3 testing.
And last week, Moscow said a second jab called EpiVacCorona had been registered by the Novosibirsk-based Vektor Centre – with “a third almost ready at the Chumakov Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences”.
Many Western scientists are sceptical about Russia’s testing procedure – and some fear it is dangerous.