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Timescale for coronavirus vaccination remains ‘very difficult’ to predict says leading vaccinologist

Vaccinologist Sarah Gilbert appeared on Andrew Marr today, April 19, to discuss the progress made with a coronavirus vaccine. Picture: The BBC - Credit: Archant

A leading vaccinologist says it is ‘very difficult to predict’ when a coronavirus vaccine will be ready for the wider population.

Sarah Gilbert from the University of Oxford appeared on the Andrew Marr show to explain the process of immunising against coronavirus.

With the pandemic responsible for 15,464 confirmed deaths in the UK, as well as countless positive cases, the pressure is on to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible.

Gilbert says that she and her colleagues are now at the point where they hope clinical trials can start at the end of next week, pending final safety tests.

The vaccinologist said that while ‘nobody can be absolutely sure’ that a vaccine will work, they are now at the stage of recruiting volunteers for the above-mentioned trials.

She proceeded to explain that the trialists will be issued with one of two vaccines, either for coronavirus or meningitis.

The hope is that the people who resultantly become infected with covid-19 have all been issued with the meningitis vaccine, and that those issued with the coronavirus alternative are protected.

Should that be the case, according to Gilbert, then it can be said that the vaccine is effective within the range of people immunised in the trial.

Gilbert caveated the optimism by outlining that ‘there are a lot of complex stages in vaccine development’ before one can be considered ‘ready’.

She added that although she doesn’t expect any surprises with the profile of this particular vaccine, they need to follow a number of steps before people can feel assured regarding its prospects.

The first step is to immunise healthy people between the age of 18-55, after which they will seek to vaccinate older people, who Gilbert claims ‘are the people we need to protect with this vaccine’.

Another consideration is having enough vaccine ready to be administered.

Gilbert says that ensuring the vaccine is effective is one thing, but that ample stocks need to be produced for the huge-scale vaccination that is required.

She called upon the government for ‘support to help us accelerate the manufacturing’, highlighting that there currently aren’t facilities large enough to produce the amount of vaccine needed.