Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, has previously warned that most vaccines in development are “long shots”.

On Tuesday, Mr Hancock acknowledged that the process for finding a vaccine would take “trial and error”, but stressed that he would back British scientists “to the hilt and give them every resource they need”.

He said: “In the long run, the best way to defeat coronavirus is through a vaccine. After all, this is a new disease, this is uncertain science, but I’m certain we will throw everything we’ve got at developing a vaccine.”

Work on a vaccine by Oxford’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group began in January. A study involving up to 510 healthy volunteers aged between 18 and 55 is now due to get under way in Oxford and Southampton, with three further sites to be added.

Half the volunteers will receive a coronavirus vaccine and the other half will be given a licensed “control” vaccine against meningitis and sepsis before being sent into the community and monitored to see whether they become infected.

More than 70 Covid-19 vaccines are in development around the world, according to the World Health Organisation, although the US and China are the only other two countries to have begun human trials so far.

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