FACE masks and social distancing might be needed until next summer as the UK faces another nine months of restrictions, the head of Oxford University's coronavirus vaccine team has said.
Andrew Pollard – head of the Oxford Vaccine Group – has warned even if vaccine trials are completed at the end of this year, the jab might not be ready until well into 2021.
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Even then it would only be initially rolled out to key groups such as frontline NHS workers.
Professor Pollard said the UK has no hope of returning to normality until mass immunisation is well underway, meaning restrictions will be needed until next summer.
His warning comes as the Prime Minister is under pressure to brining in a “circuit breaker" lockdown to tackle surging Covid cases over half-term.
“Life won't be back to normal until summer at the earliest. We may need masks until July,” Professor Pollard told an online seminar.
“If we end up with a vaccine that's effective in preventing the disease, that is by far the best way to control the virus. But in the medium term, we'll still need better treatments.
“When does life get back to normal? Even if we had enough vaccine for everyone, in my view it's unlikely that we're going to very rapidly be in a position where the physical distancing rules can be just dropped.”
The Oxford Vaccine Group is being run by Oxford University and is currently working on developing a vaccine with drug company Astrazeneca.
It is the most advanced of the clinical trials backed by the UK and earlier this month hopes were raised a vaccine could be ready in time for Easter.
But Professor Pollard cautioned against expecting it to be readily available early in the New Year.
Even if the trials are successful, the vaccine will need approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency,he explained.
The final evaluation is likely to take weeks and rolling out the vaccine will pose a “huge logistical challenge” he warned.
“Once we have the trial results, I can't imagine they will do that overnight,” he said.
“They will have to scrutinise the data very carefully – the public would not expect any less.”
A close Cabinet colleague of the PM said last night there is a 60 per cent chance he will bring in the measure over half-term, which begins for many a week on Friday.
Yesterday it emerged the Sage advisory committee of government scientists told ministers the “circuit breaker” would put the march of the virus back by 28 days.
But the Mr Johnson refused to implement the draconian measures and unveiled his three-tier local lockdowns instead — with Liverpool immediately hit with the highest restrictions.
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