Experts last night told of their joy over the development of an effective vaccine that may have Britain taking its first tentative steps out of the pandemic within weeks.
Care home staff and elderly residents may start being inoculated before Christmas, if the two-dose jab is approved by UK regulators.
The programme is expected to be rolled out in the rest of the population next year.
It sparked hopes of a return to normal by the spring, after months of misery in a seemingly endless battle against Covid, that has so far resulted in 61,498 deaths.
Trials analysis has shown the vaccine, produced by US drugs giant Pfizer and German tech firm BioNTech, is 90% effective. The Government has secured access to 40 million doses.
And 10 million – enough for five million Britons – will be available to the UK by the end of the year.
Oxford University’s Professor Sir John Bell, who sits on he UK Vaccine Taskforce, said: “I am really delighted with this result.”
Asked if the jab could mean a return to normal early next year, he replied: “Yes, yes, yes, yes. I am probably the first guy to say that but I will say it with confidence.”
Your vaccine questions answered
When will we get it?
By December, the vaccine might be offered to care home residents and staff, followed by over-80s, then people with a pre-existing health condition. After that it will go down the age groups, five years at a time.
Will it be compulsory?
No. There are fears that anti-vaccine scare stories are contributing to around a quarter of the population being reluctant to get the jab.
How quickly will it work?
Data on the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine does not indicate how long immunity lasts. It is delivered in two doses, 21-28 days apart. Most people will have developed full immunity 14 days after the second dose.
How do clinical trials work?
Vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people in double blind and placebo-controlled trials, the gold standard of scientific research.
Half of participants get the vaccine and the rest a harmless placebo solution.
What are the results?
If very few people in the group that were given the vaccine get Covid-19 then it indicates that the jab works. The analysis was carried out after 94 cases of Covid-19 were found, which indicated an efficacy rate above 90%, suggesting no more than eight people on the vaccine caught the virus, compared to 86 of the placebo group.
How does it work?
The jab is known as a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, using only the virus’s genetic code. It enters cells and tells them to create antigens to fight coronavirus.
What are the next steps?
Full safety data will be considered by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. If approved, rollout begins.
Is Britain ready for rollout?
Pfizer and BioNTech reached supply agreements with the UK. To save time, manufacturing of the vaccine began before they knew whether it would be effective.
Could there be problems?
The vaccine reportedly needs to be stored at minus-70C and most health centres do not have such facilities available.
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