A vaccine against the coronavirus is “not a given”, an expert has told Sky News.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and one of the experts advising the government on its COVID-19 response, said he was “optimistic” that one could be found.
But he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that there was no guarantee.
“The truth is we don’t have a vaccine for any other human coronavirus – common cold, SARS, MERS – and so it’s not a given that we will make a vaccine,” Sir Jeremy said.
“I’m optimistic but it’s not whether it’s a vaccine or a treatment or a test or a diagnostic, the truth is we have to have all of these and we have to use them in parallel because we’re not sure which one of these will work and in the end actually we’ll need all of those.”
Sir Jeremy added that he held out hope of a vaccine towards the end of this year, but pointed out that it will take time for it to be widely available.
“If we did have a vaccine let’s say late in 2020 or into 2021, we would then need to manufacture it in billions of doses and make those billions of doses available to the world,” Sir Jeremy said.
“So just having a vaccine that is safe and effective and proven is not enough, we have to think all the way through to the end of how we get this around the world because if there is any country vulnerable, if there is any country where there is still transmission of this virus, then every country is vulnerable.
“I hope we will have a vaccine towards the end of this year but that’s a vaccine in a vial, a vaccine that we believe to be safe, a vaccine that we think will be effective. That is not having a vaccine for the world.”
Sir Jeremy was speaking as the government faced fresh questions about its handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
According to the Sunday Times, dire warnings were ignored from scientists – and the UK lost “a crucial five weeks in the fight to tackle the dangerous threat of the coronavirus despite being in a perilously poor state of preparation for a pandemic”.
Government whistleblowers, scientists and emergency planners have alleged there was a complacency at the heart of government in late January and February when it should have been urgently replenishing stockpiles.
Asked if ministers were too slow to respond to the virus, Sir Jeremy said “there must be lessons learnt”.
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He said: “I think if you look at testing, yes, if you look at what was happening in Korea and Singapore and indeed in Germany, there was a much quicker ramping up of testing.
“Testing is critical, testing will be critical as we come out of this epidemic, the ramping up of testing, the provision of PPE [personal protective equipment] in hospitals to protect healthcare workers, all of these in retrospect, yes, should have happened earlier.”
Sir Jeremy also said the UK was past the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak, but warned further peaks could follow.
“We should not see this as a discrete episode,” he told Ridge.
“I think the probability and what we must be planning for is that there will be further waves of this in the future.”
In his role on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, Sir Jeremy is one of a number of experts who will tell the government when is a good time to begin easing the UK’s lockdown.
He said now is not the right time, but “I hope we will get there in three, four weeks’ time”.
“It is clear that the lockdown can’t go on for much longer,” Sir Jeremy continued.
“The damage it’s doing to all of our health, our wellbeing, our mental health, it disproportionately of course affecting the most vulnerable and the least able to cope with it in society, that’s a really big issue of inequality.”
A Downing Street spokesman has criticised the Sunday Times report, saying: “Our response has ensured that the NHS has been given all the support it needs to ensure everyone requiring treatment has received it, as well as providing protection to businesses and reassurance to workers.
“The prime minister has been at the helm of the response to this, providing leadership during this hugely challenging period for the whole nation.”