The UK may be able to launch a Covid vaccination campaign before the end of the year, the chair of the UK vaccine taskforce has confirmed.

Vaccines pre-procured by the UK Government are already being manufactured, with the NHS set to be able to start administering them as soon as they are approved for use, she said.

This includes four million doses of the UK leading vaccine candidate, and 10m doses of a vaccine being developed in the US, which should be ready to go ‘by the end of the year’.

Further doses are expected ‘by Easter’ next year.

Giving evidence to the joint House of Commons and Lords science committees yesterday (5 November), UK Vaccine Taskforce chair Kate Bingham said that the UK vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford, and Pfizer’s candidate being developed in the US, would likely report on efficacy before 2020 ends.

But she suggested finding enough staff to administer the jabs would be more of a problem than securing vaccine supply.

Ms Bingham said it was the responsibility of the Department of Health and Social Care to organise administration of the vaccine, but warned: ‘We’re going to have more vaccines than we’re going to be able to deploy, is my expectation.’

The news comes as the Pharmacist's sister title Pulse exclusively revealed that the NHS is preparing GPs to be able to kick start a vaccination campaign as soon as a vaccine is approved – possibly targeting the very elderly and frontline workers as early as December.

Under new legislation, the MHRA can sidestep European regulations and grant a temporary license for a vaccine to be immediately used in the UK.

The new laws also offers some protection to pharma companies with regards to civil liability for bringing to market an unlicensed vaccine.

Role for pharmacy

Yesterday (4 November) at the NHS press conference on coronavirus, chief executive Sir Simon Stevens indicated that pharmacies will be part of the rollout of a Covid-19 vaccination service before the end of the year, if a vaccine should become available.

Alastair Buxton, PSNC director of NHS services, told the Pharmacist that the body was currently working with NHSE&I and DHSC to agree on how the pharmacy sector can play a part in the Covid-19 vaccination programme. 

He said: 'Community pharmacy teams have had a central role in the response to the pandemic so far, and this should continue as new treatments and vaccinations become available.

'The success of the flu vaccination service highlights just how effective community pharmacies are in delivering key public health initiatives and means the majority of pharmacists are already trained in administering vaccines.'

Vaccine trials

Ms Bingham told the science committees that ‘we could be weeks away from the first interim review for the Oxford vaccine’. 

‘And also within that timeframe we should be looking at the interim data from Pzifer… which has the possibility of being ready before the end of the year’, she said.

She added that the two candidates are ‘very different vaccines, but both in the where we should be able to look at first set of interim data this year’.

With regards to the Oxford vaccine, she said this was as yet in ‘bulk drug form, but added ‘we should have’ four million doses ‘by the end of the year’.

The University of Oxford has been working on developing a Covid-19 vaccine in cooperation with pharmaceutical giant Astra Zeneca, backed by millions in funding supplied by the UK Government.

The Government has also funded a vaccine trial being led by Imperial College London, which Ms Bingham said would be able to report on efficacy by the middle of next year.

The committee also heard that at this moment in time, Covid and flu vaccines cannot be co-administered, so it is a case of patients getting several jabs.

Discussing time frames, Ms Bingham said she was ‘50%’ confident that all vulnerable patients would have received a vaccine by next summer.

The UK has negotiated to secure 350m doses of six different vaccines in development worldwide, ‘obviously vastly in excess of what we need, because we are expecting vaccines to fail’, Ms Bingham said.

A version of this story first appeared on the Pharmacist's sister publication, Pulse.