Coronavirus vaccine trials to begin this week, Health Secretary confirms

A vaccine for coronavirus will be ready to be tested on patients this week, the Health Secretary has announced.

Speaking at today's daily coronavirus briefing, Matt Hancock said usually the process of developing a vaccine would take years, but that by Thursday a vaccine developed by a team at Oxford University would be ready for trials.

Mr Hancock said: “In normal times, reaching this stage would take years and I’m very proud of the work taken so far.

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“At the same time, we will invest in manufacturing capability so that if either of these vaccines safely work, we can make it available for the British people as soon as humanely possible.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Photo: PA

Mr Hancock said the process for finding a vaccine would take “trial and error” but he has told UK scientists leading the search he would “back them to the hilt and give them every resource they need” in order to succeed.

“After all, the upside of being the first country in the world to develop a successful vaccine is so huge that I am throwing everything at it,” he said.

“In the long run, the best way to defeat coronavirus is through a vaccine.

“After all, this is a new disease, this is uncertain science but I’m certain we will throw everything we’ve got at developing a vaccine.

“The UK is at the front of the global effort. We have put more money than any other country into a global search for a vaccine and, for all the efforts around the world, two of the leading vaccine developments are taking place here at home – at Oxford and Imperial.

“Both of these promising projects are making rapid progress and I’ve told the scientists leading them we will do everything in our power to support.”

The project at Imperial College London will receive £22.5m to support its phase two clinical trials and Oxford University will be granted £20m to fund its clinical trials.

On personal protective equipment (PPE), Mr Hancock said he was “determined” to ensure that all staff had the personal protective equipment that they need.

He said the Government was working to expand its supply base in the UK and overseas and had entered direct talks with the factories that produce the PPE and the fabric that it is made of.

He said 8,331 companies had come forward with offers of PPE – some of which had led to “very large-scale” purchases.

“I am very grateful to all of those who have come forward and we are now actively engaged with hundreds of these companies,” he said.

“I can announce that we are working with 159 potential UK manufacturers which are starting to come on stream.”

He defended the Government’s approach to dealing with UK companies offering to supply PPE, saying checks were needed on companies offering their services.

“We are always trying to improve the processes we have in place to make purchases,” he said.

“I think it has been very encouraging the number of UK companies that have come forward.

“But we have had to make sure we sort out the creditable offers from those that are not.

“We have had some offers, for instance, that have come from companies where, upon investigation, the company has only just been formed in the previous day or two before coming and asking for a cash deal with the Government.

“And so you’ll understand that there has to be a process in there.

“Nevertheless, we want to engage with all those companies who can help us in this national effort and we are accelerating the progress of getting back to all those companies with a substantive response to their offer.”

He also denied the UK’s failure to take part in an EU scheme to procure equipment to tackle coronavirus was a “political decision” as claimed by the Foreign Office’s top civil servant Sir Simon McDonald.

Mr Hancock said: “I haven’t seen that exchange but I have spoken to the Foreign Secretary and as far as I’m aware there was no political decision not to participate in that scheme.

“We did receive an invitation in the Department of Health and it was put up to me to be asked and we joined so we are now members of that scheme.

“However, as far as I know that scheme hasn’t a single item of PPE (personal protective equipment).”

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