Covid vaccine chief predicts return to normal by spring 2021: ‘Dramatically different’

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The regius professor of medicine at Oxford University said the coronavirus vaccine developments are “exciting” and make it more likely that there will be positive news from other vaccine candidates including the Oxford/AstraZeneca one. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It wasn’t certain until the Pfizer data came out last week that you could actually get a vaccine against this virus.

“On the back of those results, which were pretty powerful, I was expecting positive results from Moderna because the platform is much the same.

“And I suspect it makes it more likely, although not certain, that some of the other vaccines, including the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, will have success in the coming weeks.

“So I mean that is the big news because we could have been waiting a very long time for an efficacious vaccine as we have in many other diseases, so that’s, I think, why it’s so exciting.

“That’s sort of chapter one. We’re now on chapter two – we’ve got to get it out to people; we’ve got to get it distributed globally; we’ve got to make enough of it – nobody’s ever made this quantity of vaccine ever before. These are big challenges.”

He added: “We can get vaccines into people in the UK and in most western countries pretty effectively.

“So I think the idea that we’re going to vaccinate a very large percentage of the population by spring is completely possible.

“And I think that will make a big difference because people will be then less anxious about catching the disease because they will be vaccinated, transmissions will fall to a low level and we may not be back completely to normal but things are going to look dramatically different by the spring.”

On side-effects for Covid vaccines, he continued: “One always worries about side-effects from vaccines.

“If you look back at the history of vaccines, most of the side-effects that have occurred from vaccines are pretty apparent within the first two to three months.

“The Guillain-Barre syndrome that occurred with one of the flu vaccines, some of the narcolepsy problems that occurred again with another flu vaccine – those things became apparent within a couple of months.

“I suspect that we will work through any issues about side-effects pretty quickly.

“It seems to me that the manufacturers, to the extent that they could, have been pretty careful about thinking about safety during their trials.

“And they’re all taking time to submit their applications for registration because they’re taking more time on the safety, to make sure that they’ve covered everything.

“You can never be complacent about safety but I think there’s a lot of effort going on.”

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Sir John said he would be surprised if the Covid vaccines “don’t substantially reduce transmissions”.

“Being able to stop transmission is obviously an important feature of vaccines if you can get it,” he told the BBC.

“The only study that I know that’s actually routinely swabbing people in the study is the Oxford/AstraZeneca study and we’ll have that data hopefully by Christmas.

“So we’ll get some sense as to what it does to transmissions. I’ll be very surprised that these vaccines don’t substantially reduce transmissions.

“They may not completely eliminate the ability to grow virus in your nose, so there may be still a risk of transmissions out there, at a low level, but obviously that’s something that we have to explore.”

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