Matt Hancock has told the NHS to be on standby and “ready” to begin deploying a possible coronavirus vaccine from the start of December, but warned it will not be rolled out until the government can be “confident” of safety.
His remarks came after scientists hailed a major breakthrough as Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced their vaccine – currently going through trials – appeared to be 90 per cent effective in preventing disease.
The health secretary welcomed the development as “promising news” but said many steps needed to be taken before it is rolled out and urged people needed to “keep their resolve” during the current coronavirus restrictions.
Asked about the deployment of a potential vaccine, Mr Hancock told Sky News: "I've asked the NHS who are supported by the armed services in this – but the NHS very much leading this effort for deploying the vaccine – I've asked them to be ready from the start of December.
"Of course, there are many hurdles that still need to be gone over and we haven't seen the full safety data, and obviously that is critical,” he added.
“We won't deploy a vaccine unless we can be confident in its clinical safety, but we also do need to be ready should a vaccine be licensed and get through all those hurdles and be ready to roll it out."
Mr Hancock said he would also ensure £150m is provided to GPs through the winter to support them in the roll-out of any vaccine, adding vaccination centres could be set up in venues such as sport halls in what he described as a “mammoth” logistical task.
The cabinet minister insisted it had always been his expectation that most people will not get a jab until 2021, with priority given to vulnerable groups first, including those in care homes, the elderly and staff working in frontline health services.
“We will be working across the NHS with the support of the armed forces seven days a week, over weekends, over bank holidays, to get this rolled out into people’s arms as quickly as possible,” he told BBC Breakfast.
The health secretary added: "This is very promising news but it is one step of many that we need to take to get out of this and to tackle this pandemic once and for all.
"I think it is absolutely reasonable for people to see this as a step forward but we have got to know this is one step amongst many that we collectively need to take.
"The critical thing is that for all your viewers is that we all keep our resolve on measures that are currently in place now because it will still take some time for this good news that the Pfizer vaccine is around 90 per cent effective, to proving it is safe, being able to licence it, and then the vast task, which obviously we have been working on for some time, of making sure that everybody in the population can get the jab."
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