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Scientists cast doubt on chances of Covid-19 vaccine before winter


Don’t expect vaccine until 2021, nor for it to be ‘magic bullet’, warn science advisers

A couple of scientific leaders have cast doubt over the availability and effectiveness of a potential coronavirus vaccine.

Speaking at a Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee for Health on 3 September, Ian Young, chief scientific adviser to the Department of Health, said he did not think a vaccine would be ready in time for winter.

“We don’t think a vaccine will be available before some time in 2021 in significant amounts, so it’s very unlikely that we will have a vaccine available for this winter,” he said.

As a result, he added, “we need to find a way of living with the virus, allowing as much activity as possible but everybody remaining as careful as possible”.

Currently, there are around 170 potential coronavirus vaccines in development worldwide, while the UK government has already signed up to purchase doses of four separate vaccines in advance.

“It’s likely that when a vaccine becomes available for widespread use, we’ll require two doses of vaccine about a month apart to achieve significant immunity from the early studies—and we are not sure how long that immunity will last as we are not sure how long immunity lasts for those people who have experienced Covid,” said Young.

Meanwhile, in an article in the Observer newspaper on 6 September, the director of the Wellcome Trust, Jeremy Farrar, urged caution, warning that the first vaccine may not be “a magic bullet that sends us back to normal in a matter of months”.

“I am optimistic that we will soon see results from the first vaccines coming through late-stage clinical trials,” wrote Farrar, who has attended Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies meetings.

“However, we must temper this optimism, this talk of the perfect vaccine ‘just around the corner’, or the idea that it will be a complete and immediate solution.”

He added that he was concerned too much hype was being applied to the first vaccines.

“The ‘first’ vaccine, or even the first generation of vaccines, will most likely not be perfect; we need to be pragmatic and transparent on that front. The reality is that with these vaccines, we will be taking small steps to return to a sense of normality.”