Coronavirus vaccine stocks are set to start being sent out in Britain from next week, it has been claimed.
A London hospital trust has been given the heads up that batches of the potential Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 antidote could be available from the week beginning November 2, according to health sources.
But Health Secretary Matt Hancock played down the reports, saying the NHS was only being asked to be ready “in case everything goes perfectly”.
While batches of the AstraZeneca vaccine are being made, trials are still ongoing and no single vaccine has yet been deemed safe and effective for mass use.
Huge efforts are being made to ensure hospitals in the capital are ahead of the game if and when the potential vaccine is greenlit.
Other clinical trials have reportedly been halted at the trust to ensure thousands of frontline staff can be vaccinated as soon as there’s an official thumbs up – and extra security measures are being readied.
A Whitehall source told The Sun: “They are liaising with the police and even the army over a number of security concerns.”
Addressing the reports, Mr Hancock told the BBC: “We want to be ready in case everything goes perfectly but it’s not my central expectation that we’ll be doing that this year.
“The programme is progressing well, we’re not there yet.”
Mr Hancock added: “On my central expectation, I would expect the bulk of the roll out to be in the first half of next year.
It comes after the Mail on Sunday reported George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust in Warwickshire was told to be prepared to being vaccinating staff from early December.
The White House’s infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci has already said it will be clear by the beginning of December whether any of the multiple potential vaccines are safe.
A Department for Health spokesperson said: “The NHS has a tried and tested track record for delivering vaccination programmes and will work with existing partners across the healthcare system to ensure a Covid-19 vaccine can be deployed safely and effectively.
“A Covid-19 vaccine will only be deployed once it has been proven to be safe and effective through robust clinical trials and approved for use by the independent regulator.”
It comes after reports Britain has already stockpiled 340 million doses from six prototype vaccines – the most of any country.
But the head of the UK Vaccine Taskforce Kate Bingham has admitted there are still plenty of uncertainties and that any vaccine would like require more than one dose.
She told Sky News last month a “partially effective vaccine is better than no vaccine at all”, pointing to flu jabs which are widely used but only 50 percent effective.
She added the UK had stockpiled so many doses in order to “maximise our chances”, and said it is important to cover every “different immune profile”, but that a viable vaccine was unlikely to be ready to be rolled out until 2021.
The Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine and another from BioNTech/Pfizer are expected to release findings from phase 3 trials in the coming weeks.