Face masks and social distancing could be in place until next summer, Oxford vaccine professor warns

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  • October 14, 2020
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Face masks and social distancing measures could be in place until next summer, the head of Oxford‘s coronavirus vaccine trial has said.

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said the vaccine would likely not be available until next year and that key groups, such as frontline health workers, would be at the front of the queue for jabs.

“Life won’t be back to normal until summer at the earliest. We may need masks until July,” the Daily Mail reported him as saying during 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.”

He added: “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.”

Oxford is among around 165 groups of researchers racing to develop a coronavirus vaccine.

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group said face masks could be necessary until the summer of 2021 (PA)

The UK government currently has six vaccine candidates in its portfolio, produced by AstraZeneca and Oxford university, BioNTech and Pfizer, Valneva, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson, and GlaxoSmithKline.

Professor Pollard said rolling out the vaccine could be a “huge logistical challenge”.

He added: “Initially, we’re going to be in a position where mask-wearing and social distancing don’t change… Only when there is a big drop in serious cases will governments feel able to relax these measures.”

The professor explained that if the Astrazenca Oxford trial proves successful it will need approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, who will “scrutinise the data very carefully”.

Head of UK Covid-19 vaccine taskforce: Slim possibility of vaccine by Christmas

It comes after Katie Bingham, the chairwoman of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, said she was “hopeful” of getting trial data from the Oxford study, as well as the vaccine from Pfizer BionNTech, before the end of the year.

Both studies are currently in phase 3 clinical trials, meaning that the vaccine has been given to thousands of participants to check its safety and effectiveness, the final stage before researchers submit their data to regulators for approval.

But Ms Bingham said there was a “slim chance” of getting the Oxford vaccine before Christmas.

She said: “I am optimistic that we will see something – four of our six vaccines are now in phase three studies, and in each of them we’ve seen very positive data in the phase one and two clinical studies, which shows that people who have received the vaccine do elicit a strong immune response, and that, and if you take the neutralising antibodies that are triggered those antibodies are able to kill live Covid virus.

“So that is very positive and it’s as good as it can be at the moment.

“And we now need to see whether or not those immune responses that we see translate into into protection.”