Video report by ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan
There is a "small chance" that a Covid-19 vaccine could be available by Christmas, the head of the Oxford trial team has said.
From December, GPs will be put on standby should this happen, the chief executive of the NHS had said.
Sir Simon Stevens added that the NHS is “10 out of 10” on scale of readiness to roll out a Covid-19 vaccine if one were to become available before Christmas.
However, the “expectation” is that any vaccination programme would begin in the new year – pending positive results from the vaccine clinical trials, Sir Simon Stevens has said.
Even if a vaccine is not available before the end of the year, the head of the UK's vaccine taskforce has said the chances of a vaccine being ready within the next year is "very high".
Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, Sir Simon said the health service is preparing to “fire the starting gun” whenever a Covid-19 vaccine is ready to be rolled out.
Sir Simon said a potential vaccination programme will see inoculations delivered at GP surgeries, pharmacies and mass testing centres – including at the Nightingale hospitals.
Work has been going on behind the scenes to prepare for any potential Covid vaccine and how it could be rolled out.
GP magazine Pulse reported on Tuesday that family doctors will be told to be prepared to start vaccinating over-85s and frontline workers from early December.
Sir Simon told a press conference: “Our expectation is that it will be the start of next year when the bulk of vaccine becomes available, assuming that the Phase 3 trials produce positive results.
“We are obviously planning on the off-chance that there is some vaccine available before Christmas.”
Some vaccines need to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, he said, adding: “So it’s going to be a combination of what GPs are able to do, what community pharmacists are able to do, but also mass vaccination centres, which is one of the purposes we will be using the Nightingale Hospitals for, and other locations as well.
“There will be roving teams who will prioritise care homes and social care staff and other vulnerable groups.
“But the bulk of this is going to be the other side of Christmas, but we want to be ready.”
The Economist has previously reported that other locations being touted for mass vaccination centres include the Copper Box stadium in the Olympic Park in London, Woking Leisure Centre, Leeds Town Hall, and a university sports centre in Hull.
Speaking earlier in the day, the head of the Oxford vaccine trial, Professor Andrew Pollard said that a vaccine that is at least 50% effective could “halve the number of deaths or hospitalisations here in the UK” which would be “a dramatic change from where we are today”.
Meanwhile, Professor Robin Shattock, who is leading Imperial College London’s Covid-19 vaccine effort, added that the world would be living with the consequences of coronavirus “for many years to come”.
He said: “I think it is unrealistic to expect that the UK government or the country will wake up and hear there is a vaccine that is successful and life gets back to normal immediately.
“We are likely to be living with the consequences of this virus for many years to come – even though vaccines will make life that much much better and reduce, hopefully, fatalities and serious illness significantly.”
It comes as the head of the UK’s vaccines taskforce said she has 50% confidence that by Easter or the early summer next year that all vulnerable people in the country will have a vaccine that will have some impact on reducing the dangers of Covid-19.
Kate Bingham also said that data from the vaccine trials at the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca and Pfizer with BioNTech could be available this year.
She said if she puts on “rose-tinted specs” she would hope to see positive interim data from both Oxford and Pfizer BioNtech on their potential vaccines in early December.
“And if we get that then I think we’ve got a possibility of deploying by year-end,” she said.
But when Ms Bingham was asked by MPs about the chances of a vaccine at some stage in the next year which will wipe out coronavirus, she said: “Well, to wipe out coronavirus, I think very slim.
“To get a vaccine that has an effect both reducing illness and reducing mortality, very high.”
Prof Pollard agreed and said he was optimistic that the data on safety and efficacy of the Oxford vaccine will be available by the end of the year.
He told the Science and Technology Committee that vaccines that show significant efficacy would be a “game-changer” for cancer patients.
He said: “From a health system point of view, (it would mean) there are fewer people with Covid going into hospital (and) that people who develop cancer can have their operations or their chemotherapy, it is a complete game-changer and a success if we meet those efficacy end points.
“But unfortunately, it does not mean that we can all get back to normal immediately because it takes time to roll out vaccines, not everyone will take them, and we will still have people getting this virus.”
There are two frontrunners in the Covid-19 vaccine race – one from German biotech firm BioNtech and US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, and another being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca.
Both vaccines are currently in phase three of clinical trials.
Before any vaccine comes to the market, regulators have to confirm they are safe and effective.
The committee which advises the Government on vaccines has already set out the priority groups which should be vaccinated first.
According to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, older adults resident in a care home and care home workers should be the first to be given any approved vaccine.
All those aged 80 and over and health and social care workers are next on the priority list.