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The UK will be first in line for 30m doses of Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine by September if it passes trials, the business secretary has said.
Alok Sharma said that a deal struck between the university and AstraZeneca means the pharmaceutical giant will work to make 30m doses available by September for the UK, as part of an agreement to deliver 100m doses in total, if ongoing trials succeed.
“The UK will be first to get access,” Sharma told the Downing Street daily Covid-19 briefing.
Sharma said Oxford was one of the world’s “frontrunners” in the race for a vaccine, with clinical trials “progressing well” and all phase one participants receiving their vaccine dose on schedule earlier this week.
The participants will now be monitored closely by Oxford’s team.
Sharma said Imperial College London was also “making good progress” and would look to move into clinical trials for a vaccine by mid-June, with larger scale trials in October.
He said so far the government had invested £47 million in the Oxford and Imperial vaccine programmes, and announced a further £84 million in new funding “to help accelerate their work”.
He said: “This new money will help mass-produce the Oxford vaccine so that if current trials are successful we have dosages to start vaccinating the UK population straight away.”
The business secretary, who earlier announced £93m for a new vaccines manufacturing innovation centre to open in summer 2021, said the government has now committed more than a quarter of a billion pounds towards developing a vaccine in the UK.
But he warned that there are no certainties and it is possible trials may not lead to a successful coronavirus vaccine.
“So we also need to look at other drug treatments and therapeutics for those who get the virus,” he said.
He said the government is working with scientists in the collaborative UK programme Accord to find a drug that can be used to treat Covid-19.
“Today I can report six drugs have entered initial live clinical trials,” he said.
“If positive results are seen they will advance to larger scale trials.”
Sharma also revealed that the UK has held discussions with France about exempting those travelling between the countries from quarantine.
Businesses in the UK have expressed concerns over government plans to force all arrivals into 14-day quarantine to combat the spread of the virus.
Sharma said: “There have been discussions between the prime minister and president Macron, when details become available we will set them out.
“But what I would say is what is important to realise, the reason we are going to be introducing quarantine measures with some limited exceptions, is precisely because we want to protect the UK population now they have made sacrifices and managed to get the R rate below one.”