A&Es face winter ‘pandemonium’ without COVID-19 vaccine

Scientists have warned that the UK’s A&E departments could face “pandemonium” if no vaccine for COVID-19 has been developed by the winter.

The House of Commons’ Science and Technology Select Committee has heard from scientists urging people to take up the offer of a vaccine when one becomes available.

Speaking to the committee, chair of the UK’s vaccine taskforce Kate Bingham said she expects to have a vaccine “early next year”. However, she added that it was possible these first vaccines may only “help alleviate the symptoms” of the virus instead of preventing it being contracted in the first place.

Best chance

Oxford University is trialling a vaccine that Bingham highlighted as the country’s best chance. The university’s Professor Sarah Gilbert said that social distancing had played its part in reducing the amount of infections in the UK.

However, she explained that it had made it more challenging to test the vaccine, so her team is now also testing it in Brazil and South Africa – both countries with high numbers of infections. Prof Gilbert explained that scientists are unable to prove that a vaccine works without high infection levels.

Another trial of 30,000 people is set to begin in the US, managed by AstraZeneca, which has partnered with Oxford University.

Prepare for the worst

Oxford’s Sir John Bell advised that the UK should prepare for the worst this winter. He said that throughout the pandemic, those responsible for managing it have “relied too heavily on assumptions that have turned out not to be true”.

He went on to say that his advice is to “be prepared for the worst”.

The issue of common winter flu will also complicate matters, according to Sir John. He said that if the UK suffers from a particularly serious flu season, then medical professionals will face “difficulty separating flu from COVID patients”.

Increase uptake

Sir John also highlighted the importance of increasing the number of people getting flu vaccines. He said uptake is “lamentably” low in certain regions.

If people do not take up offers for a flu vaccine, it could end up “really serious”, he told the select committee.


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