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A new taskforce to accelerate the development and manufacture of a coronavirus vaccine has been announced by the government, following a warning the UK could end up with the highest death rate in Europe from the disease.
The Department of Health and Social Care said a total of 14,576 patients have now died in hospital after testing positive for the illness in the UK.
Business secretary Alok Sharma said on Friday the new body would aim to “rapidly accelerate” the creation of a vaccine to make sure it was “widely available to patients as soon as possible”.
The taskforce, which ministers said will bring together government and private business, will be led by chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance and deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said the government was “working flat out with businesses, researchers and industry to find a vaccine as quickly as possible”.
“The UK is world-leading in developing vaccines. We are the biggest contributor to the global effort – and preparing to ensure we can manufacture vaccines here at home as soon as practically possible,” he said.
The announcement comes as researchers at the University of Oxford said British volunteers could be given the first dose of a potential coronavirus vaccine within the next week.
They hope to have one ready for clinical trials soon, and as part of their preparations the team aim to have at least a million doses available by about September.
Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at Oxford University who is leading the team, said a vaccine could be available for use by the general public by the autumn.
However, she said there is always an unknown and scientists can never be sure vaccines are going to work.
Earlier on Friday, Professor Anthony Costello of University College London’s Institute for Global Health said the “harsh reality” was that the UK “was too slow with a number of things” and deaths here could reach to 40,000.
He told the Commons health and social care committee Britain will face “further waves” of Covid-19.