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Efforts are being fast-tracked to recruit an army of nurses, doctors and community pharmacists in readiness to administer a life-saving vaccine the moment one is declared effective and safe by health watchdogs. A senior medical expert told the Daily Express that the UK will be ready by October and that a vaccine breakthrough is close. “The chances of having large volumes of vaccine this side of Christmas are small, but nevertheless it is plausible, at least for a couple of manufacturers that we are looking at,” they said.
The UK has secured access to four types of vaccine from six different manufacturers and is supporting frantic research across the world.
One of the most promising has been developed in the UK by researchers at Oxford University and is already in large-scale human trials to test its effectiveness.
Donald Trump is reportedly considering fast-tracking it for use in the US before the election this November, even though scientists haven’t proven it works.
Elderly and vulnerable people and health and care professionals on the front line are expected to be the first people to get the medicine once it is proven safe.
But officials stressed that “no corners will be cut” and no vaccine will be given to anybody unless it first passes safety tests controlled by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said: “We are making progress in developing Covid-19 vaccines which we hope will be important in saving lives, protecting healthcare workers and returning to normal in future.
“If we develop effective vaccines, it’s important we make them available to patients as quickly as possible but only once strict safety standards have been met.
“The proposals consulted on today suggest ways to improve access and ensure as many people are protected from Covid-19 and flu as possible without sacrificing the absolute need to ensure that any vaccine used is both safe and effective.”
Health experts say doctors and nurses will be their first choice for people to administer the drug, but even vets and dentists might be asked to help out.
“Nothing is being left off the table,” a senior medical expert said.
As part of the drive to ensure the UK’s preparedness the Government will also clarify the protection from civil liability that healthcare staff could face.
The special measures include stronger powers for the UK to approve drugs this year independently of the European Medicines Agency that is supposed to licence drugs up to the end of the Brexit transition period in December.
That step alone indicates that officials believe the vaccine has a chance of being ready earlier than 2021.
Dr Christian Schneider, Director of National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, said: “Whilst the existing licensing system or a new UK one from next year, is the preferred and expected route to supply any vaccine, these new measures will strengthen the regulatory regime and our ability to protect public health.”
Under the proposals more fully trained healthcare professionals will be able to administer vaccines under NHS and local authority occupational health schemes, as well as enable an expanded workforce that can administer vaccinations.
This will make it easier and quicker for patients to access the vaccines.
The expanded workforce could include a wider range of existing NHS staff, as well as groups such as student doctors and nurses.
The regulations already give healthcare workers and manufacturers protection from civil liability, but the consultation will look at clarifying the scope of the protection to ensure it applies to companies that order the medicines and the additional workforce that could be allowed to administer vaccinations.
There are around 1.1 million people working in the NHS and everyone who is included in the programme will go through a “robust training programme”, the Department of Health said.
Ministers are also reported to be considering drive-through vaccine clinics which work in a similar way to the regional coronavirus testing centres.
People could be able to drive to centres specially set up – possibly in GP surgery car parks, for example – and get the vaccine without having to go into a clinic or hospital.
This could make the process faster and make social distancing easier.
The car park plan was drawn up for flu vaccinations in the coming months, but it’s possible that it could be used for a Covid-19 jab in future.
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