A coronavirus vaccine is “unlikely” to completely stop infections and the disease might never fully disappear, the government’s chief scientific adviser has said.
Sir Patrick Vallance pointed to how smallpox was the only disease to have ever been completely eradicated and that, in future, treating COVID-19 might become more like dealing with seasonal flu.
He told a parliamentary committee on Monday: “I think it is unlikely that we will end up with a truly sterilising vaccine that completely stops infection.
“It is likely that this disease will circulate and be endemic.
“My assessment – and I think that’s the view of many people – is that’s the likely outcome.
“Clearly as management becomes better, as you get vaccination that will decrease the chance of infection and the severity of the disease – or whatever the profile of the vaccines are, this then starts to look more like annual flu than anything else.
“And that may be the direction we end up going in.”
The medical definition of endemic describes a disease that is constantly present.
Sir Patrick also told the National Security Strategy Committee that he thought it “unlikely” that a COVID-19 vaccine would be available for “any sort of widespread community use” before at least spring next year.
Although he said there “may” be some doses before that, Sir Patrick also said it was important not to “over-promise”.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust medical research foundation and a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), has told Sky News that more than one vaccine would be available before next April.
There are currently three vaccine trials under way in the UK, with an AstraZeneca vaccine – developed by the University of Oxford – in phase three trials.
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In the House of Commons on Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs that “no vaccine technology is certain” but said the government “must be prepared to deploy a vaccine as soon as one is safely available”.
He outlined how the government had taken steps to allow “a wider range of clinically qualified people to administer vaccines” and to provide for the granting of a UK licence for a vaccine before the end of the Brexit transition period “should that be necessary”.
“We all wish our scientists well in this vital work, and we will give them all the support they could possibly need,” Mr Hancock said.