Delight at new vaccine tempered by fears of tighter tiers after lockdown

Health and Education

The UK has secured five million doses of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine which claims to have almost 95% effectiveness against the virus.

Health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the UK has “an initial agreement” for five million doses from the US drugmaker, but added they will not be available until spring 2021.

“Absolutely brilliant news,” hailed deputy chief medical officer professor Jonathan Van-Tam, adding, with reference to Pfizer’s vaccine announcement: “It’s the second penalty that’s gone into the net!”

Other vaccines are being developed and today’s announcement means the government has ordered 355 million doses for the UK from seven different drugmakers.

“Across diagnostics and vaccines, great advances in medical science are coming to the rescue, said Hancock. “While there is much uncertainty, we can see the candle of hope and we must do all that we can to nurture its flame.

“But we’re not there yet. Until the science can make us safe we must remain vigilant and keep following the rules that we know can keep this virus under control.”

‘Too early to say if lockdown can be lifted’ – Hancock

The FTSE – and markets around the world – surged on Moderna’s announcement of its 94.5% effective vaccine, coming only days after Pfizer announced its vaccine is 90% effective.

However, Conservative MPs were among those more concerned by Hancock’s warning that it was “too early” to say if England can lift lockdown on December 2.

England’s three tier system, in place before the lockdown, needs tightening when lockdown is lifted, suggested epidemiologist Susan Hopkins, the director of Public Health England (PHE) who joined Hancock and Van-Tam for today’s coronavirus press briefing.

Tier 1, Hopkins said, had “very little effect” on curbing the spread of the virus and hinted tier 2 or higher will be the norm after December 2 saying the existing system needs “strengthening in order to get us through the winter months until the vaccine is available for everyone.”

The Telegraph claims: “Conservative MPs said it was ‘terrible’ news, creating a ‘grim’ prospect for the run-up to Christmas and beyond.”

The newspaper does not name any MPs but reminds that “those who have resisted restrictions so far will be furious at the thought of more draconian measures to come”, putting the prime minister on another collision course with disgruntled backbenchers.

They hailed Johnson’s dismissal of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain from Downing Street last week and were set to be wooed further by the prime minister this week.

PM isolating during crucial time for Brexit

However, during the chaos that saw the PM dispense with his two top advisors last week, Johnson held a meeting with backbenchers that turned into a super-spreader event, with seven MPs – including the PM – now self-isolating for 14 days.

The timing could not be worse for Johnson with Brexit talks resuming in Brussels today ahead of what is described as a crucial week for the UK and EU.

However, Hancock told today’s briefing the PM’s self-isolation was not an impediment to progress, stating: “If the Prime Minister needs to speak to anybody in Europe, he will be able to do that by Zoom. He will be driving forward the agenda in the way he normally does.”

The same is true, the health secretary added for the PM’s plans to re-engage with his backbenchers.

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