A vaccine against coronavirus, being developed together by scientists at the University of Oxford and pharma giant AstraZeneca, may be cleared by health regulators by the end of this year, according to a UK media report.
The vaccine candidate is the furthest in the process of trials, according to a report in The Times quoting British government sources. "We are looking at closer to six months and it is likely to be far shorter than that," one such source said.
Under a protocol developed by the UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, any approved vaccine will then be administered to all those aged over 65 years, followed by younger adults at higher risk. These could include those from ethnic minorities as well as ones with serious health issues. People aged over 50 will be next in line, with younger adults at the back of the queue.
The government has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine once it is ready for rollout and, in order to save time, the doses are being manufactured even before it has proved successful.
According to the media report, scientists on the trial are hopeful that at the very least it will prevent 50 per cent of the infections, deemed the threshold for success.
If approved, the UK's National Health Service (NHS) is ready to begin mass vaccination immediately.
Some in the government, however, are more cautious on the timelines. A Royal Society report this week, co-authored by an Indian-origin scientist, warned of the massive uphill task ahead in producing and distributing a vaccine.
"Even when the vaccine is available, it does not mean within a month everybody will be vaccinated. We're talking about six to nine months to a year after a vaccine is approved," said Professor Nilay Shah, head of chemical engineering at Imperial College London.
The Department of Health, though, has sought to downplay the Royal Society's findings. "This study fails to reflect the enormous amount of planning and preparation that has taken place across government to quickly roll out a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine," said a department spokesperson.