he UK’s home-grown Covid vaccine is “highly effective” — and the first Britons are expected to receive it by the end of the year, it was revealed today.
It also appears to prevent infected people without symptoms from transmitting it to others.
Trial leader Professor Andrew Pollard said: “It means we have a vaccine for the world. I think this is an incredibly exciting moment for human health.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “Incredibly exciting news the Oxford vaccine has proved so effective in trials. There are still further safety checks ahead, but these are fantastic results.”
After the breakthrough news was announced:
Prince William praised the makers of the Oxford vaccine in a phone call, telling them: “Well done, I’m so pleased for all of you, I really am. I saw it in everyone’s faces back in June how much time and effort was going into this, and I could see that there was a lot of pressure on everyone, so I’m so thrilled that you’ve cracked it.”
The starting gun for the Covid-19 mass vaccination programme in Britain could be fired in a “couple of weeks”, Matt Hancock signalled
The military are on standby to take millions of doses to GP surgeries and mass vaccination clinics before the end of the year.
The two jabs for the Oxford vaccine will be given four weeks apart.
Oxford University said a preliminary analysis of phase 3 trials in more than 24,000 volunteers in the UK, Brazil and South Africa showed it was 70.4 per cent effective overall in preventing illness.
But this rose to 90 per cent if the vaccine was administered as a half-dose followed by a full dose, rather than two standard doses, which were 62 per cent effective. About 2,700 UK volunteers were in the group that received a half-dose followed by a full dose. If the vaccine is delivered in this manner, it will double the availability of the first dose — meaning more people can be protected from Covid quickly.
Professor Pollard told the Standard that the bulk of the volunteers were working-age adults, in whom the vaccine worked well. Londoners took part in the trials at Imperial College Healthcare, St George’s and University College London NHS trusts.
“Large-scale” manufacturing has already begun in 10 countries with 100m doses already ordered by the UK government, of which four million doses will be available by Christmas, and 40 million by the end of March.
Further research is under way to investigate why a smaller first dose appears to offer greater protection — and whether immunity lasts as long.
The Oxford vaccine, which is being manufactured with Cambridge-based drugs firm AstraZeneca, is the third of six ordered by the UK government to be found to be highly effective in tackling Covid.
Sir Mene Pangalos, executive vice-president at AstraZeneca, said the results showed the vaccine was “highly effective”. He told the BBC: “I hope if the regulators deem the vaccine to be safe and effective, which I hope they will, we should be able to start immunising people in December.”
Asked if this included Britain, he said: “Yes, towards the end of December. I think we should be able to start immunising people this year.”
Health Secretary Mr Hancock said the announcement was a “great relief”. He said: “The idea that by November we would have three vaccines, all of which have got high effectiveness… I would have given my eye teeth for.”
He told the Today programme: “If this all goes well in the next couple of weeks then we are looking at the potential of starting the vaccine programme next month for this, the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, as well as the Pfizer vaccine. But in all cases the bulk of the rollout will be in the New Year.
“We have got to keep the virus suppressed using mass testing and [social distancing] but we are looking with high confidence now that from after Easter things can really start to get back to normal.”
Professor Pollard said the 70 per cent efficacy rate was better than the flu vaccine most years. He told the Today programme: “That means if we did have people vaccinated, so far the results imply we would be able to stop people getting severe disease and going into hospital.”
The Oxford vaccine has a major advantage as it can be stored at “fridge temperature” — whereas the Pfizer drug needs to be kept at -70C up to several days before being used
.The first analysis of the Oxford phase 3 study — which tests the vaccine in a large number of people — was based on 131 volunteers contracting Covid. Of these, 101 had received the “placebo” — the meningitis vaccine — and 30 had received two doses of the Covid vaccine.
There were no hospitalised or severe cases in anyone who received the vaccine. “These findings show that we have an effective vaccine that will save many lives,” Professor Pollard said.
His colleague Professor Sarah Gilbert said: “The announcement today takes us another step closer to the time when we can use vaccines to bring an end to the devastation caused by SARS-CoV-2.”
Today’s result will now be scrutinised by regulators, including the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which has been receiving data on a “rolling” basis. Giving the vaccine as a half-dose first meant it was better tolerated by volunteers, with fewer side effects such as headache or fatigue.