Top UK scientist: COVID-19 vaccine ‘unlikely’ before late 2021

Top UK scientist: COVID-19 vaccine ‘unlikely’ before late 2021
Top UK scientist: COVID-19 vaccine ‘unlikely’ before late 2021

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: A vaccine for COVID-19 might not be available until the end of next year, a leading British scientist has warned, despite positive results in research on antibody immunity and steroid use against the virus.
“I’d obviously be delighted if it came earlier rather than later, but I’d be quite surprised if we had a highly effective vaccine ready for mass use in a large percentage of the population before the end of winter, certainly before this side of Christmas,” said Prof. Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer and a senior UK government adviser.
“I think there’s a reasonable chance that we’ll have vaccines, not a certainty, in the period before the following winter of 2021-22.”
There are over 170 candidate vaccines in development worldwide that are being officially monitored by the World Health Organization.
The UK is home to two of the world’s leading trials of COVID-19 vaccines, with one being developed by a team at Oxford University in partnership with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, and the other by scientists at Imperial College London. But despite unprecedented efforts to develop a successful vaccine, Whitty remains cautious. 
“A lot of people are doing a huge amount scientifically, logistically to … try and see if we can get a vaccine at extraordinarily fast speed,” he said.
“But we have to check it works and we have to make sure it’s safe, and these things do take time,” he added.
“We should plan on the basis we won’t have a vaccine, and then if one does prove to be effective and safe and available, then we’re in a strong position to be able to use it, and that will be great, but we should be planning on the basis of what we currently have.”
Whitty did, however, air positive views on the use of other treatments, such as the steroid Dexamethasone, which has been shown to significantly reduce mortality rates in severe cases of COVID-19.
“Those studies are ongoing, and I’m hoping for more results like that in the next months. I’m confident in the ability of science to get us out of this hole,” he said.
Whitty’s comments came amid news that various international studies into the virus have shown heightened rates of natural immunity among people who have contracted COVID-19.
Scientists in the US, Sweden and elsewhere have all reported finding strong antibody responses in asymptomatic or mild COVID-19 cases, which could prevent reinfection for months or even years.
Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, hailed the findings as “good news.”
But he told the Sunday Times: “My very strong feeling is that we need to maintain a degree of caution and low levels of infection, because as we enter autumn and winter there is every prospect that we are going to get a big bounce back of the coronavirus and I think we’re all very afraid that it’s not over yet.”
Prof. Sir John Bell, professor of medicine at Oxford University, said a vaccine remains essential to solving the issue of COVID-19.
He expressed his belief that a global second wave will occur, and “the vaccines won’t get here in time to stop the second wave.”
He did, however, agree that the antibody findings are positive. “If lots of us have got T-cell immunity that largely protects us from the disease, we may be closer to herd immunity than we originally thought,” he said.

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