Although it is not yet known how long the vaccine would last, it is thought likely to be needed annually, like the flu jab, because a slightly different version of the virus may come seasonally.
Last month, Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, said Britain would be the first country in the world to get a vaccine should trials be successful, and announced an extra £84 million in funding to accelerate research.
The Oxford vaccine is currently furthest along in human trials of all the vaccines in development, and Professor Sara Gilbert, leading the research, predicted that it could be ready by the early autumn.
Speaking earlier this month, Prof Gilbert said the trials may need to move to other countries because infection rates were now so low in Britain that it was hard to know if the vaccine was working.
“We had hoped to have enough people vaccinated before the outbreak reached a peak, but the virus spread rapidly, triggering a lockdown, and rates of infections are now falling,” she told United Nations ambassadors. “Unless some of the trial participants do become infected, we cannot know that the vaccine is effective.
“We are thus focusing on vaccinating healthcare workers, as they have the highest rates of virus infections. Further, as measures to ease the lockdown are being introduced, transmission may rise again.
“We need to manufacture more vaccine for the trials, and plan to start trials in more than one country to give ourselves the best chance of determining vaccine efficacy.”
The UK’s first Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre in Harwell, Oxfordshire, will be operational by next summer, and able to produce enough vaccines for the whole population within six months.