On Friday, Britain launched a new coronavirus taskforce aimed at supporting efforts to make a coronavirus vaccine available to the public as quickly as possible. Coronavirus has infected more than 114,000 people across the UK – and more than 2.2million people globally.
The news of a vaccine task force came the day after it was announced the UK faced three more weeks of lockdown conditions.
The UK is thought to be nearing its peak of virus cases, and Secretary of State Dominic Raab said lifting lockdown conditions now could cause a “second peak”.
Mr Raab said there was “light at the end of the tunnel”, but cautioned against lifting restrictions too early.
Announcing the lockdown extension, Mr Raab said the Government needed to be satisfied of five things before it would consider it safe to adjust the current measures.
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Vaccine task force: What is the new vaccine task force?
The five things are:
– Protect the NHS’s ability to cope and be confident that the NHS is able to provide sufficient critical care across the UK
– A sustained and consistent fall in daily death rates to be confident the UK is beyond the peak
– Reliable data from Government scientific advisers showing rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board
– Confidence that testing capacity and personal protective equipment (PPE) are in hand with “supply able to meet future demand”
– Confidence that any adjustments to the current measures would not risk a second peak in infections.
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What is the vaccine task force?
The vaccine task force made up of representatives from government, academia and industry.
Members will include government Life Sciences Champion Sir John Bell, as well as AstraZeneca, and the Wellcome Trust.
The taskforce will be led by Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan van Tam.
The aim of the taskforce is to make sure regulations and manufacturing capacity are such that the production of a vaccine can be quickly scaled up when one is successfully developed.
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On Friday, the Government said 21 new research projects would get funding from a £14 million investment pool “to rapidly progress treatments and vaccines”.
The taskforce will include AstraZeneca and research charity the Wellcome Trust.
A million doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine being developed by British scientists at Oxford University are already being manufactured, even before trials prove whether the shot is effective, the team said on Friday.
Business minister Alok Sharma said: “UK scientists are working as fast as they can to find a vaccine that fights coronavirus, saving and protecting people’s lives.
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“We stand firmly behind them in their efforts.
“The Vaccine Taskforce is key to coordinating efforts to rapidly accelerate the development and manufacture of a potential new vaccine, so we can make sure it is widely available to patients as soon as possible.”
A vaccine against the novel coronavirus is seen as key to defeating the COVID-19 pandemic which has killed more than 155,000 globally and delivered a large blow to the global economy.
However, timeframes for the development of a vaccine vary.
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While the Oxford scientists said their vaccine would be available by September, GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Sanofi SA, who earlier this week said they would develop a vaccine, predicted it would not be available until the latter half of 2021.
The Government said it wanted a vaccine to be available as quickly as possible but did not give more details on an expected timetable for development.
Britain said it would identify ways to fast-track clinical trials and also continue to support international efforts to find a vaccine.
Among the projects to receive funding includes a test of a vaccine at Imperial College, London which aims for the body to produce more protective antibodies; Public Health England’s efforts to develop a new antibody to protect from COVID-19 and a University of Oxford trial of an anti-malarial drug to see if it could prove effective against COVID-19.
When asked about the possibility of a vaccine being produced by the autumn, Prof Sir John Bell, a member of the Government’s vaccine task force, told the Today programme: “The real question is will it have efficacy.
“Will it protect people, and that has not been tested and it will only be tested once you have vaccinated a significant number of people and exposed them to the virus and counted how many people have got the virus in that population.
“So, we won’t even get a signal for that until May.
“But if things go on course and it does have efficacy, then I think it is reasonable to think that they would be able to complete their trial by mid-August.”