Health Secretary 'more and more confident' life will return to closer to normal by spring

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that he has grown “more and more confident” that life will be closer to normal by spring.

He told a Downing Street press conference this evening that he has formally asked the regulator responsible for ensuring that medicines are safe – the MHRA – to assess the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for use in the UK.

He said the company had already begun submitting data to the regulator and would submit its full data in the coming days, and follows positive moves on other vaccines which could be available to tackle coronavirus.

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“This is another important step forward in tackling this pandemic,” he said.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Photo: PAHealth Secretary Matt Hancock. Photo: PA
Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Photo: PA

He said the speed of the roll-out of a vaccine would depend on the speed it could be manufactured.

“If the regulator approves a vaccine we will be ready to start the vaccination next month with the bulk of roll-out in the new year.

“We are heading in the right direction but there is still a long way to go.”

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A member of the public, Stephen from Weybridge, asked if black and Asian communities would be given priority for a coronavirus vaccine, after the elderly, health workers and those with pre-existing conditions, due to people from those backgrounds being disproportionately affected by Covid-19.

Mr Hancock said the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the Government on clinical prioritisation for vaccines, had looked at this questions “very carefully”.

He said the JCVI’s assessment so far was that “the most important determining factor in your risk is your age and of course the need to protect those who are in turn looking after the most vulnerable, the NHS staff and social care staff”.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer, said the biggest risk factor for the likelihood of a bad outcome from Covid-19 was age, followed by co-morbidities – chronic underlying illnesses.

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He said: “We do know that a very significant proportion of the unfortunate but true signal we see in black and minority ethnic groups is driven by the presence of comorbidities that occur at an earlier age.”

He said the JCVI’s provisional priority list will be targeting people according to having underlying risk conditions.

Prof Van-Tam said: “What is now really important is that the vaccine is accessible to all communities irrespective of their ethnic background and that people come forwards when they are called and the uptake is very high.”

He said he believed the authorities were on the “glide path” towards rolling out a vaccination programme.

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“Do I believe that we are now on the glide path to landing this plane? Yes I do,” he said.

“Do I accept that sometimes when you are on the glide path you can have a side wind and the landing is not totally straightforward, totally textbook? Of course.”

While Mr Hancock added: “Chris Whitty (chief medical officer for England) has said he hopes that we will be able to get back more towards normal by the spring.

“And with this news we’ve had over the last few weeks and with the expansion of mass testing I’m more and more confident that he’s right.”

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