'No guarantees' on any COVID-19 vaccines, Alok Sharma says
There are “no guarantees” that any of the coronavirus vaccine programmes invested in by the UK Government will be successful, Business Secretary Alok Sharma has said.
Speaking during a visit to a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Livingston, Sharma said that the government would have to “wait and see where any of these vaccines turn out in terms of efficacy”.
He also acknowledged that the four UK nations are moving at “different speeds” on lifting lockdown restrictions, although he added that “we are most certainly on the same path”.
Sharma visited Livingston to promote a UK Government “multi-million pound” joint investment in a manufacturing plant along with pharmaceutical multi-national Valneva, as part of efforts to get access to a coronavirus vaccine.
The deal in principle could see the plant expand to meet a commitment to produce at least 60 million doses if an effective vaccine is developed by the company.
But the company’s vaccine candidate is not expected to begin trialling until towards the end of the year.
It is one of four vaccine development programmes that the UK has secured access to, which includes a trial led by the University of Oxford and the firm AstraZeneca, which Sharma described as being “ahead of the pack”.
Asked how the timeline of the other trials could impact on the investment in Livingston he said: “There’s a range of vaccines that we are investing in. The one in development by AstraZeneca is ahead of the pack in terms of clinical trials.
“Ultimately we’ll just have to see where any of these vaccines come out in terms of efficacy. I don’t think anyone can predict precisely when any of this will happen."
He added: “I would raise a note of caution here. There are certain diseases where we have been looking for a vaccine for a long period of time and not found one. But of course there is significant effort globally going into finding a successful vaccine to beat coronavirus so I hope we will be successful but, as I say, there are no guarantees.”
Sharma insisted that the decision to invest in the Livingston plant came as a result of expert scientific advice from the UK Government’s vaccine taskforce as opposed to concerns about promoting the union.
But he did stress the importance of UK Government interventions in supporting the Scottish economy, particularly through the furlough and self-employed support schemes.
He said: “We are all on the same path - we are going at different speeds - but we are most certainly on the same path.
“In terms of the economic recovery, we’ve supported jobs and businesses to the tune of £160bn and in Scotland we protected one in three jobs through the furlough scheme and the self-employment scheme as well.
“The key for us is to reopen the economy in a safe and cautious manner. That is what we are doing and we will continue to do that, of course, and to provide additional support in terms of jobs.”