The Government has signed deals for 90 million doses of promising Covid-19 vaccines, with more in the pipeline.
The latest deal is for vaccines being developed by an alliance between the pharmaceutical giants BioNtech and Pfizer as well as the firm Valneva.
This is in addition to 100 million doses of a vaccine being developed by Oxford University with AstraZeneca, whose early results are due to be published in The Lancet medical journal on Monday.
Kate Bingham, chairwoman of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, said she is hopeful of a vaccine by the end of the year.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “optimistically we will be vaccinating by the end of the year” but added that she would not “go to the bank on it yet”.
She also said the goal of the taskforce was “to find vaccines for the UK, but also to ensure that any successful vaccine is distributed across the globe, so that anybody who is at risk of infection is vaccinated”.
She told Sky News: “We’re not pursuing a strategy of vaccine nationalism.
“We are recognising that this is a global pandemic and we need to ensure that the globe – and all those who need it – are vaccinated.”
The Government is aiming to build a portfolio of potential vaccines, alongside effective treatments for coronavirus.
The latest announcement is for 30 million doses of a vaccine from BioNTech/Pfizer, 60 million doses from Valneva, with an option to acquire a further 40 million doses if needed.
If the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine is shown to work, regulatory review could be sought as early as October 2020, with up to 100 million doses potentially manufactured by the end of the year.
The Government has also signed a deal with AstraZeneca for one million doses in principle of a treatment containing Covid-19 neutralising antibodies.
This could protect those who cannot receive vaccines, such as people with cancer or whose immune system is severely compromised.
A new NHS Covid-19 vaccine research registry has also been established with the aim of recruiting 500,000 volunteers by October to test new vaccines and treatments.
Ms Bingham said: “The fact that we have so many promising (vaccine) candidates already shows the unprecedented pace at which we are moving.
“But I urge against being complacent or over-optimistic.
“The fact remains we may never get a vaccine and, if we do get one, we have to be prepared that it may not be a vaccine which prevents getting the virus, but rather one that reduces symptoms.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he could not be “100% confident” that a vaccine would be available this year or next year.
“Obviously I’m hopeful, I’ve got my fingers crossed, but to say that I’m 100% confident that we will get a vaccine this year – or indeed next year – is, alas, just an exaggeration; we are not there yet,” he said.
He said the “sheer weight of international effort” will produce some forms of treatment or vaccines, but people must keep up social distancing and hygiene in the meantime.
“It may be that the vaccine is going to come riding over the hill like the cavalry, but we just can’t count on it right now,” he said.
Valneva has a factory in Livingston, Scotland, and the Government is expected to contribute to expanding this facility.
A separate Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre is currently under construction in Oxfordshire.
Imperial College London is also developing a vaccine with Government backing. Its vaccine started human clinical trials in June.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “A safe and effective vaccine is our best hope of defeating coronavirus and returning to life as normal.
“We have some of our best scientists and researchers working on this, but members of the public have a vital role to play too.
“So I urge everyone who can to back the national effort and sign up to the NHS Covid-19 vaccine research registry to help find a vaccine as soon as possible.
“Every volunteer will be doing their bit towards finding a vaccine for Covid-19 that will have the potential to save millions of lives around the world and bring this pandemic to an end.”
Albert Bourla, chairman of Pfizer, said the new agreement with the UK is “testament to our shared goal to have millions of doses of a vaccine against Covid-19 available before the end of the year”.
“This agreement is part of our commitment to address the pandemic by creating a global supply,” he said.
“We are in advanced discussions with multiple other Government bodies and hope to announce additional supply agreements soon.
“Our goal remains to bring a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine to many people around the world, as quickly as we can.”
– The vaccine registry can be found at: nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/research/coronavirus-vaccine-research/