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21 May 2020updated 06 Oct 2020 9:45am

Evening summary: Cold water on vaccine plans

By Samuel Horti

Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, has reiterated his view that it is “very unlikely” we will have a widepsread vaccine before the end of the year. His comments pour water on today’s announcement from AstraZeneca, which is working with scientists at the University of Oxford on a vaccine, that it could produce up to a billion doses by the end of the year, subject to clinical trials. The company admitted the vaccine might not work – but the upbeat tone of its statement, which also revealed it was ready to supply 100 million doses to the UK government in September, jar with Whitty’s words.

The big political news of the day was the government’s U-turn on an NHS surcharge that migrant workers must pay to use the health service. All health and social care workers, including clinical staff, cleaners, porters and others, will be exempt, Downing Street said today. Just yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stood by the surcharge, saying it raised vital money for the NHS. No 10 said Johnson had been “thinking about this a great deal”, but the U-turn looked like less a change of heart and more a result of pressure from senior Conservative MPs threatening to rebel.

Lastly, Health Secretary Matt Hancock used this afternoon’s Downing Street press conference to reveal that antibody levels in London were around 17 per cent, according to early results of a government study, and around 5 per cent in the rest of the country, while Whitty added that the number of “excess deaths” were falling, and approaching levels you’d normally expect in winter months.

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