A “broad portfolio” of coronavirus vaccines could be available in two years, but a cautious approach is needed in the meantime, England’s chief medical officer said.
Professor Chris Whitty also said it was not a “realistic starting point” to believe that a policy could completely stop the import of variants into the UK.
During a Royal Society of Medicine webinar on Thursday, the top medical professional addressed a variety of questions about the pandemic.
While he said technology and the ability to tailor vaccines to new variants will “find a way” at some point, some risk remains until then.
He said the approach is cautious “because we have such a difficult situation at the moment”.
But he added, “I don’t think this should be viewed as an indefinite attitude, but I think this is likely to be a matter of the next year or two as we understand how to do this and find a way to react quickly to variations. ”
He said if we “scroll forward two years we will likely have a very broad portfolio of vaccines”.
The technology can “convert a vaccine to a new variant incredibly quickly compared to previous performance,” he said.
He added, “I think technology will find a way in the long run, but we have some risk until then.”
The idea that it is possible to stop imports of variants of the virus into the UK is “not a realistic starting point,” he said.
Speaking to the webinar, he said, “Anyone who believes that they can really only have a border policy or a general policy that completely eliminates the possibility (of variants) completely misunderstands the problem.”
He said while R is less than 1 they have variants that “don’t have much grip,” but added that R is likely to go above 1 as more things in the road map open up for the barrier exit.
In the long term, Prof. Whitty reiterated his claim that the coronavirus “will not go away” and said that in the future it will be about “minimizing mortality while not maximizing the economic and especially social impact on our fellow citizens”. .
While he said he could not see a system of local lockdowns again, the emergence of a variant that could show “unrestrained growth” could mean an “alarm cord” must be pulled.
He said: “The only area where I think we technically need to pull the alarm cord is when there is a worrying variation that we can see that it is now back in a situation where it is due to the immunological response to cope with unrestrained growth it’s just not there. “
Prof. Whitty said he will tell a political leader that it is not “your call” if he believes they are trying to make a decision that is outside of their remit.
He said there is a spectrum with some decisions that are “purely technical” and others that are “entirely political”.
He said, “Depending on how much, where I think it is in this spectrum, it will determine whether I actually really get involved in the discussion.
“If I think it’s mostly a technical decision, and I think the political leader is trying to make it, I’ll say,” I don’t think that’s your reputation. “
“Likewise, if it’s primarily a political decision … I shouldn’t be trying to make a political decision for a political leader.”