Largan column: Covid vaccine

Beating the spread of coronavirus was always going to be a long journey. As we make our way through the third week of the new restrictions, it is worth pausing to look ahead and remind ourselves that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The best way to stop the virus in its tracks is a vaccine. Last week we got the exciting news that the interim results of the Pfizer/BioNTech Vaccine suggest it is proving over 90 per cent effective at protecting people against the virus. It has been tested on over 40,000 volunteers, but there are no guarantees and rigorous safety checks are still needed.

In the meantime, the Government has been planning ahead, securing a huge share of the world’s vaccine supply, including 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. That is enough for a third of the population (since you need two doses per person).

The Government has also secured access to 5 million doses of Moderna’s promising vaccine, following its initial data showing that it is almost 95 per cent effective, that could be delivered as early as Spring 2021. That puts the UK at the front of the international pack on a per capita basis with over 355 million doses ordered from seven different vaccine candidates.

Once an effective and safe vaccine has been approved, the Government will begin an NHS-led programme of vaccine distribution across the UK. This will start with those most at risk, as currently advised by scientific experts, before being rolled out more widely. This week we got the exciting news that a second vaccine is shown to be effective. These breakthroughs are impressive and show the vital importance of research and development to saving lives.

If Labour had won the general election last year, they would have decimated our pharmaceutical sector with unrealistic and unsustainable proposals for nationalisation. On paper, this kind of simplistic populism might sound appealing but, in practice, this approach would have had a devastating impact on innovation and the development of new healthcare treatments. When it comes to public health, we need a pragmatic evidence-based approach, focused on what works. Not knee jerk ideological purity.

While we wait for a vaccine, the Government has already announced a rollout of 600,000 rapid-turnaround tests across England. This will help us to detect the virus quicker than ever before, including people who do not have symptoms. Mass testing will be a vital tool in the months ahead. I am pleased that mass testing will also be trialled in care homes, helping to reunite families and friends with their loved ones.

There is real hope on the horizon, but we must maintain our resolve in the national effort against the virus. This means we must continue to do our bit and stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.

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