THE first doses of an experimental coronavirus vaccine will be given to human volunteers on Thursday, the Government has revealed.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that a potential jab which has been developed by Oxford University will begin to be tested in just two days.
He also announced a boost of £20million to fund the clinical trials, as well as £22.5 million to Imperial College London for its coronavirus vaccine research.
Speaking at the Downing Street press briefing this evening, Mr Hancock said: “I can announce that the vaccine from the Oxford project will be trialled in people from this Thursday,” he said.
“In normal times, reaching this stage would take years and I’m very proud of the work taken so far.
“At the same time, we will invest in manufacturing capability so that if either of these vaccines safely work, we can make it available for the British people as soon as humanely possible.”
He also said the process for finding a vaccine would take “trial and error” but he has told UK scientists leading the search he would “back them to the hilt and give them every resource they need” in order to succeed.
“After all, the upside of being the first country in the world to develop a successful vaccine is so huge that I am throwing everything at it,” said Mr Hancock.
Prof Sarah Gilbert, who is leading the Oxford team, said last week that a vaccine could be available for use by the general public by the autumn.
She said: “Personally, I have a high degree of confidence. And, I think, it has a very strong chance of working.”
Asked when the first dose of the vaccine might be delivered to a trial volunteer, chief investigator Professor Andrew Pollard said it depended on when the last part of the testing from the manufacturing ended.
Announcing the additional funding for scientists working on a Covid-19 vaccine, Mr Hancock today said: “In the long run, the best way to defeat coronavirus is through a vaccine.
“After all, this is a new disease, this is uncertain science but I’m certain we will throw everything we’ve got at developing a vaccine.
“The UK is at the front of the global effort. We have put more money than any other country into a global search for a vaccine and, for all the efforts around the world, two of the leading vaccine developments are taking place here at home – at Oxford and Imperial.
“Both of these promising projects are making rapid progress and I’ve told the scientists leading them we will do everything in our power to support.”
The project at Imperial College London will receive £22.5 million to support its phase two clinical trials and Oxford University will be granted £20 million to fund its clinical trials.
The Imperial College NHS Trust tweeted after the announcement saying: “[We] are looking for healthy volunteers to participate in a #COVID19 #vaccine trial, for which they will receive up to £190-£625 reimbursement for time, travel and contribution to the trial.
“If you are aged 18-55, in good health and think you might be interested, please visit the website for more information.”
It comes after figures revealed that less than half of the available coronavirus testing capacity has been used, leaving the Government facing an uphill battle to meet its 100,000 a day target.
Downing Street insisted Boris Johnson – who is continuing his recovery from Covid-19 – had full confidence in Health Secretary Matt Hancock but the Government has come under fire over both its testing programme and the availability of vital equipment for health staff.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health confirmed a total of 17,337 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Monday – up by 828 from 16,509 the day before.
The Government remains committed to the goal of carrying out 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month, but fewer than 20,000 were conducted in the 24 hours to 9am on Monday.
That is despite there being capacity for 39,250 tests to have been carried out over the same period.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Government was “absolutely standing by the target”.
“We are increasing capacity, clearly we need to make sure that capacity is being used and that’s what we are working on,” he said.
Some 19,316 coronavirus tests were carried out in England, Wales and Scotland in the 24 hours up to 9am on Monday.
Asked about the gap in testing capacity and tests conducted, the PM’s spokesman said: “Ministers have been very clear that any spare capacity should be used to test NHS and social care staff and their families.
“As a result of the increased capacity which we have available, other critical care workers can now also get tests so that they can continue their vital work on the frontline.”