The Government is calling on more members of the public to register for future clinical trials into Covid-19 vaccines after an initial 100,000 volunteers signed up.
The NHS Covid-19 Vaccine Research Registry was created in July to allow people to express their interest in participating in a clinical trial and to be contacted by researchers.
The Government is now encouraging more people to join the registry by October to enable large-scale studies to take place across the UK.
The UK’s Vaccine Taskforce, set up under the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, is working to secure a vaccine and helps fund clinical trials and manufacturing.
Task force chairwoman Kate Bingham said she was “delighted” by the initial response from volunteers.
She told the PA news agency: “We’ve had a phenomenal uptake and it reflects the fact that everyone in the UK does want to do their bit.
“The purpose of the registry is to try and get as many people as possible to sign up so that as we recruit and start up these big efficacy studies, we’ve got people we can go to immediately.
“These trials are safe, please sign up. The quicker we get the clinical trials enrolled, vaccinated and get the results, the quicker we can get a vaccine.”
Ms Bingham said priority groups for a future vaccine have been identified as older people, ethnic minorities, people with underlying conditions and frontline health and social care workers.
Stressing it was important for these groups to sign up, she said: “They’re disproportionately affected and so they are most at risk of infection.
“Regulators, the authorities who decide whether this is safe and effective to put into people, they want to see the immune responses of those target people who will be receiving the vaccine.”
Hundreds of thousands of people will be needed for larger studies into the efficacy of the vaccines, six of which are currently being looked at by the task force.
However, PA understands that so far only 6% of volunteers on the registry are from BAME backgrounds.
Ms Bingham said: “People are suspicious and I’ve certainly seen some incredibly aggressive anti-vax saying this is discriminatory or you’re being targeted for all the wrong reasons.
“I think the main thing is to say there is no agenda here at all other than to get safe and effective vaccines to the people at risk as soon as we can and to do that we need the high priority groups to sign up for the trials.”
Ms Bingham said she was “very optimistic” about potential vaccines, adding that early results from three of the six vaccines were encouraging.
She said: “I wouldn’t bet on having a vaccine this year but I would put a bet on having something early next year that modifies the course of the disease.
“What I think we’ll get is a vaccine that reduces the severity of symptoms so that people will stop dying and it will turn into something like flu.”
Elderly people, who typically have weaker immune systems, are highly likely to receive a different vaccine from young people if treatments are found, Ms Bingham added.
People who wish to express an interest in being part of a clinical trial can join the registry online.
They may then be contacted by researchers but can choose whether to take part, and can withdraw from the registry at any point.