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Polyvalent COVID-19 vaccines that protect against “new variants as they come in” could be available in five years, the chief medical officer for England has said.
Speaking at the NHS Confederation conference on 17 June 2021, Chris Whitty gave a “forward view” of the COVID-19 pandemic, warning that the UK is in the midst of a further surge where “the height of that surge is still uncertain”.
In addition to the current wave, Whitty said he expects “a further winter surge… because we know that winter and autumn favour respiratory viruses”.
However, the severity of a winter surge “is uncertain”, partly depending on new variants and “how the current wave passes through the UK,” he said.
“If I look five years out, I would expect us to have polyvalent vaccines which will hold the line to a very large degree against even new variants as they come in and an ability to respond with vaccination to new variants,” Whitty added.
“But the period over the next two or three years, I think new variants may well lead to us having to revaccinate or consider at least boosting vaccinations as they come through.
“So I think we have to be aware that COVID-19 has not thrown its last surprise at us — there will be several more over the next period.”
Whitty’s comments come after vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said that the NHS would be ready to deploy booster COVID-19 vaccines from September 2021, but that the clinical decision around when the revaccination campaign would start had yet to be made.
He said that decision “will be up to Chris Whitty and the chief medical officers of the devolved administrations”.
Whitty also warned conference attendees of another potentially “difficult” winter.
“Either we’ll have a very significant COVID-19 surge — people minimise their contacts and we will have less respiratory viruses — or people will be back to a more normal life, there will be some COVID-19 but on top of that we will go back to having a flu surge,” he said.
“So I think we need to be aware of and brace for the fact that the coming winter may well be quite a difficult one. Not probably on the scale that the last one… but still quite a significant one.”
During the 2020/2021 flu season, community pharmacies administered record numbers of flu vaccines.