There is still some hope an effective coronavirus vaccine could be available by Christmas, the UK’s top scientist said today.

Sir Patrick Vallance said work to develop a jab is heading ‘in the right direction’ and that one could be available ‘by the end of the year’.

He stressed it was ‘not certain’ any Covid-19 vaccine would work but that many trials are showing they generate an immune response, meaning they could protect the body against an infection.

The government adviser added that the UK had access to a number of vaccines that are in late clinical stages of  trials aiming to show ‘they are effective and safe’.

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In a televised press conference he said: ‘The UK has got access to a number of these [trials] with a range of different vaccine technologies from a range of companies.

‘The UK has therefore put itself in a good position in terms of vaccine supply and the possibility that one of these will work.

‘We don’t yet know that they will work but there is increasing evidence that its pointing in the right direction. And it’s possible that some vaccine could be available before the end of the year in small amounts for certain groups.’

However, Sir Patrick cautioned against being overly optimistic, saying it was much more likely that vaccines will become available over the first half of next year.

‘In the meantime we’ve got to get control of this in order to make sure we can live with it in a way that’s sustainable and protects health and society overall,’ he said.

Sir Patrick held the press conference alongside England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty to address soaring rates of coronavirus across the UK.

They warned that the virus is doubling every week, meaning the country could be hit by 50,000 new infections per day if measures aren’t immediately taken to slow the spread of the disease.

Professor Whitty said people should ‘break unnecessary links’ between households to stop coronavirus spreading out of control,

He said the virus is being transmitted via household-to-household contact and people need to stop mixing with others as much as possible in their work and social lives.

‘We have to break unnecessary links between households because that is the way this virus is transmitted,’ he said.

‘This means reducing social contacts, whether they are at work… and also in social environments.

‘We have to try and do this in the least damaging way. We all know we cannot do this without some significant downsides.

‘This is a balance of risk between if we don’t do enough, the virus will take off and, at the moment, that is the path that we are clearly on. If we do not change course then we are going to find ourselves in a very difficult problem.’

Boris Johnson is reportedly set to address the nation as early as Tuesday in order to brace families for winter lockdown plans.

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This could see pubs and restaurants asked to close early and households banned from meeting up to curb community transmission of the virus.

Reports suggest the prime minister will mull over a series of options on Monday before addressing the country.

The government also confirmed over the weekend that people refusing to self-isolate having been told to do so face fines of up to £10,000.

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