Pfizer’s potential coronavirus vaccine could start being rolled out in the UK by Christmas if it passes further scientific and safety “hurdles,” according to the government.
UK stocks had soared earlier on Monday as hopes grew of an economic resurgence from the pandemic, with investors betting on the suppression of the virus and revival in ailing companies’ fortunes.
Prime minister Boris Johnson used a press conference on Monday to announce Britain would launch a vaccination programme if several challenges still facing Pfizer’s potential coronavirus vaccine can be overcome.
It comes amid soaring optimism over US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer (PFE)’s announcement it had reached a “critical milestone” with its potential coronavirus vaccine, boosting hopes of a return to everyday life and business activity.
The prime minister said the NHS could potentially start distributing the vaccine as Britain had been “towards the front of the international pack” in securing access to doses from pharmaceutical Pfizer and their partners BioNTech.
But Johnson warned the breakthrough announced on Monday still needed to be peer-reviewed, and said the UK government had not yet seen the full safety data. “We absolutely cannot rely on this news as a solution,” he said in a press conference on Monday evening.
“The biggest mistake we could make now is to slack our resolve at a critical moment,” he added, highlighting current infection and death rates.
He also said Britain’s orders meant it would be able to vaccinate around a third of the population, with the order of vaccinations to be decided in consultation with experts to save as many lives as possible.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, also warned it would be a “colossal mistake” for anyone to relax now.
He said he was hopeful it could start being rolled out by Christmas and help prevent future waves, with age likely to be the major priority in allocating doses. But he told the public it was unlikely to make a difference to the current wave. Timescales for any easing of restrictions were not yet known, and he added: “Making vaccines is really difficult. Many things can go wrong during manufacture.”
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It comes after Pfizer said its vaccine candidate had produced 90% effectiveness in preventing cases in a trial. Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNtech are the first to report results from the many vaccine trials around the world.
A Downing Street spokesperson said in advance of the press conference that the UK will have bought 10 million doses by the end of the year if regulators approve the vaccine. The UK was first to sign a deal with the companies, with orders for 40 million doses in total, according to PA.
US president-elect Joe Biden, global health experts, and economic analysts also urged caution, but stock markets showed little and COVID-exposed stocks surged on the news. Any successful, widely available vaccine is likely to revolutionise the prospects of many UK and global companies hamstrung by the virus and restrictions this year.
The first UK coronavirus lockdown forced mass business closures, hammered household incomes and delivered a record decline in quarterly GDP earlier this year, with analysts expecting another heavy toll from the most recent tightening of restrictions. Business chiefs in many sectors warned of widespread permanent closures when England went into lockdown once more last week.
The vaccine news, on top of a US election result welcomed by investors, sent the FTSE 100 (^FTSE) soaring higher earlier on Monday.
The index of Britain’s biggest listed companies surged 4.8%, in its best day in months. Shares in cinema chains, airlines, energy firms, pubs, restaurant chains, travel and tourism companies posted eye-watering gains.
Airline chiefs are among those to have predicted for months that recovery to pre-virus levels of demand will take years, with plunging passenger numbers and a bleak outlook sparking mass job losses.
But hopes that a vaccine could see economies open up and travel and leisure activities return more swiftly saw investors pile into travel and leisure stocks as soon as Pfizer made their announcement. British Airways owner IAG (IAG.L) closed 25.5% higher, while Cineworld (CINE.L) closed 40.3% higher.
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