A senior scientist has warned that the UK should prepare itself for the worst over the winter months instead of relying on the possibility of a vaccine for coronavirus, saying that pandemic planning had relied too heavily on assumptions and it would be more effective to prepare for winter without thinking that a vaccine would be available.

Regius professor of medicine at Oxford University Sir John Bell told MPs at a hearing of the science and technology committee that it would be wise to face the winter without expecting a vaccination breakthrough, the Independent reports.

Sir John also observed that healthcare professionals are worried that there will be pandemonium in hospital A&E departments if we see a bad flu season coupled with coronavirus during the colder months. 

And he issued a call for more investment in the infrastructure around manufacturing vaccines, saying that this was lamentable at the start of the pandemic.

In order to stop the spread of the virus, Sir John advised that mass testing was vital, describing Office for National Statistics data showing that 70 per cent of people were asymptomatic as “robust”.

New test technologies over the last few days can produce results in just minutes, so people will be able to test themselves and then plan their days around what the results say.

Also speaking at the hearing was Kate Bingham, chair of a government vaccine taskforce, who said she was optimistic that a vaccine would be discovered, but did go on to warn that it may be we have to make do with a vaccine that reduces the severity of symptoms, rather than preventing infections in the first place.

Ms Bingham went on to predict that a vaccine would come at the beginning of next year, depending on how successful trials at Oxford University are, with scientists beginning human testing back in April.

Screening of healthy volunteers, aged between 18 and 55, began in March, with the vaccine based on an adenovirus vaccine vector and the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

The new vaccine has been called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, made from a weakened version of a common cold virus that causes infections in chimpanzees. It has been genetically changed so it’s impossible for it to grow in humans.

By vaccinating, the hope is that the body will be able to recognise and develop an immune response to the Spike protein, helping to prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering human cells, thus preventing infection.

Thus far, vaccines made from this virus have been administered to over 320 people, proving to be safe and well tolerated, although potentially causing temporary side effects like a sore arm, headache and a temperature.

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