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by Alain Tolhurst
18 May 2020
Around half of UK population could have access to coronavirus vaccine by September, says Alok Sharma

WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto/PA

Around half of UK population could have access to coronavirus vaccine by September, says Alok Sharma

Around half of the UK population could have access to a vaccine against coronavirus by September, the UK Government has claimed.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma announced the target after a deal was struck between Oxford University and Astrazeneca.

It means if the vaccine candidate, known as Chaddox 1, works after trial then the pharmaceutical giant will pay for its commercialisation and manufacturing, before selling it at cost during the pandemic. 

Sharma said this agreement could lead to the delivery of 100 million doses in total, with 30 million of those available to Brits in as little as four months, well ahead of the predicted timeframe for developing a vaccine against Covid-19.

"The UK will be first to get access but we can also ensure that in addition to supporting people here in the UK we're able to make the vaccine available to developing countries at the lowest possible cost,” the minister said.

He told the Downing Street press briefing the first clinical trials were "progressing well" as he revealed the UK Government had pledged £65.5m in additional funding to the project.

There is also a second potential British vaccine, being developed at Imperial College London, which will receive £18.5m in funding.

He said the additional research funding would help with the mass production of the vaccine so that if trials are successful "we have dosages to start vaccinating the UK population straight away".

And in a further move the UK is investing £93m to accelerate the completion of the UK's first vaccines manufacturing innovation centre at Harwell in Oxfordshire, now expected to open next summer, a year ahead of schedule.

Sharma said once it was operating it would have the capacity to produce enough vaccine doses to serve the entire UK population in as little as six months.

He also told the press conference the UK Government will not be varying the coronavirus lockdown rules by region despite the differential in the rate of infection across England.

According to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Herefordshire, Norfolk, Durham and Cumberland now have 12 times as many cases as Devon, Cornwall and Dorset, but the Business Secretary said it was said it was "too soon" to take a differing approach.

Speaking alongside him Stephen Powis, NHS England national medical director, added: “There will be variations between different parts of the country, that occurs naturally in epidemics.

"We see that, for instance, in flu season each winter. What's important going forward is increasingly we will be able to measure R direct."

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