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The chances of a coronavirus vaccine being available before Christmas are “very low”, England’s chief medical officer has said.
Speaking to MPs on the Commons health committee on Tuesday, Chris Whitty said there was a “low probability” one would be ready in time for the winter flu season.
On Monday scientists at the University of Oxford announced that preliminary results of a study into a vaccine they were developing showed it was safe and induces an immune reaction.
The “very positive news” was welcomed by Boris Johnson, who has said he hopes for a return to “significant” normality by the middle of November.
The prime minister said last week the remaining social restrictions could be lifted “possibly for Christmas”.
But Whitty sought to play down hopes that a vaccine could be in use before the end of the year.
“I want to be very clear, we are incredibly excited by and proud of what the UK has done leading the way on vaccine science,” he said.
“But no one would should be under any illusions. The chance of us getting a vaccine before Christmas that is actually highly effective are in my view very low.”
But Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said he believed a faster timetable was possible.
“I am cautiously optimistic that we will have some vaccine this side of Christmas,” he told the committee.
“It is a utopian dream, it would be wonderful, if we one day we could have combined Covid-19 and flu vaccine in one syringe.”
Whitty also told MPs he “very much doubts” it will be made compulsory for people to have a coronavirus vaccine but added he would “personally expect” it to be free.
“Forcing people to have vaccines does not seem like a good answer under any circumstances,” he said.
However Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has previously said there was “strong argument” for making vaccines mandatory for children.
Speaking last year, before the coronavirus outbreak, Hancock said he was “looking very seriously” and making some vaccinations compulsory.