The first wave of COVID-19 vaccines is unlikely to end the pandemic according to the head of the Vaccine Taskforce, Kate Bingham.
The UK has 340 million doses of six prototype vaccines in its stockpile – more than any other country but Bingham said uncertainties remain over how much protection they give and for how long. Further candidates, including some in early development, will still be needed.
“We are not done; the reason we’ve gone for a range of vaccines is to maximise our chances that we will have at least one successful vaccine that works in the population who are most vulnerable’’.
“We are always looking for additional vaccines for delivery at different times or with a different immune profile.” Said Kate Bingham in an interview.
Two vaccines, made by Oxford University/AstraZeneca and BioNTech/Pfizer, are expected to release data from key phase 3 clinical trials within weeks.
They should show whether the vaccines stop the virus spreading or just alleviate symptoms.
But Bingham said even a vaccine that reduces the severity of disease in vulnerable patients would still be worthwhile.
“A partially effective vaccine is better than no vaccine at all,” she continued.
“Flu vaccines are 50% effective, but they are widely used and have a big impact on reducing the clinical impacts of flu in the population.”
More than 270,000 people have so far signed up to the Vaccine Research Registry in the hope of joining trials. More volunteers from ethnic minorities are needed to test vaccines in a diverse population.
She said she understood the desperation for a vaccine, particularly with the prospect of long local lockdowns over winter.
“The comfort I can give is, we have four of our six vaccines now in phase 3 efficacy clinical trials, so we have vaccines that have progressed rapidly into that final stage of efficacy testing,” she said.
“We haven’t seen any serious safety signals that have stopped these vaccines completely. There will of course be safety issues, but these are carefully monitored.”
Professor Jonathan Ball, a vaccine expert at Nottingham University, said everything rides on good results from the phase 3 trials. Antibody levels fall quickly after real COVID infection. If the same happens with a vaccine it may only protect for a month or two.