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17 April 2020

Daily briefing with Alok Sharma, Patrick Vallance, Yvonne Doyle – new 'Vaccines Taskforce' announced


In his statement, Business Secretary Alok Sharma makes the following key points. He starts by reiterating the government's 'step-by-step action plan [...] to slow the spread of the virus'. He updates on testing and mortality statistics. Sharma repeats the previous day's announcement that social distancing measures will remain in place for at least the next 3 weeks and the five 'tests' that must be met before adjusting 'any of the current measures'. He thanks everyone for following the government's advice but says, 'Now is not the time to let up. The risk still persists.' Sharma states the importance of finding a vaccine and that 'we need to apply the best of British scientific endeavour to the search for the coronavirus vaccine'. He announces a Vaccines Taskforce led by the government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam 'to coordinate the efforts of government, academia and industry towards a single goal: to accelerate the development of a coronavirus vaccine.' He confirms that 'the government has green-lighted a further 21 research projects to help fight coronavirus'. Sharma concludes by saying, 'We cannot put a date on when we will get a vaccine. But we live in a country with a rich history of pioneering science. And with the government backing our scientists we have the best chance to do this as quickly as possible.'

Presenting the latest data, Patrick Vallance includes these key points. The number of hospital cases is not only plateauing, but going down in some places, particularly in London. He says it shows the impact of the measures being taken, but 'this is not going to be a sudden drop'. He says over 5,500 people are enrolled in clinical trials and we should start to get answers over the next weeks. He states that there is evidence in places where there is little coronavirus of people ignoring social distancing rules: 'Don't think just because you haven't seen it near where you are, it isn't there.'

In the Q&A, Alok Sharma is asked how the government will reach its target for 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month when only 21,000 were carried out the previous day. Sharma says there is capacity for 38,000 a day and 'we are doing everything we can [..] to reach that target'. Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director of Public Health England, says 'we are on track'. Asked whether Nadine Dorries, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Care, was right to say we will exit full lockdown when there is a vaccine, Sharma says people will understand why the government is extending the lockdown and repeats measures to protect business. Ultimately, he says, 'we will always be led by the scientific advice'. Responding to questions about vaccination, Patrick Vallance says the most vulnerable will be vaccinated first 'in the way that you normally do', but they have not reached that stage. Vallance says there are over 100 vaccine projects globally, but 'each single project does not have a high probability of success'. He emphasises the need to ensure a vaccine is safe. He says, 'we just need to back lots of horses at the moment' and 'we may need more than one vaccine'.


Gov.uk speech

Gov.uk policy paper – slides and dataset