The UK government is “throwing everything” at developing a coronavirus vaccine, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said as he announced that human trials led by the University of Oxford will begin this week.
Mr Hancock, who is under fire over his 100,000-per-day testing target and a lack of protective equipment for health and care staff, said it was clear that the “best way to defeat coronavirus is through a vaccine”.
Speaking at the daily press briefing on Tuesday, Mr Hancock praised the “rapid progress” being made into vaccines by scientists at Oxford and Imperial College London.
Oxford, where the team is being led by Professor Sarah Gilbert, has said it hopes to have at least a million doses of its vaccine ready in September, while Imperial hopes to start clinical trials in June.
Mr Hancock said the UK is at the “front of the global effort” to find a vaccine that is effective against coronavirus.
“We have put more money than any other country into a global search for a vaccine and, for all the efforts around the world, two of the leading vaccine developments are taking place here at home – at Oxford and Imperial,” he said.
“Both of these promising projects are making rapid progress and I’ve told the scientists leading them we will do everything in our power to support.”
Mr Hancock pledged a further STG22.5 million ($A43.9 million) to Imperial, while Oxford will be granted STG20 million to fund its clinical trials.
Mr Hancock said the process of finding a vaccine would involve “trial and error” but he has told UK scientists he would “back them to the hilt and give them every resource they need” to succeed.
“After all, the upside of being the first country in the world to develop a successful vaccine is so huge that I am throwing everything at it,” he said.
Meanwhile, a total of 17,337 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospitals in Britain, an increase of 828 on the figure published 24 hours earlier, health ministry data showed.
The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus has risen to 129,044.
The true extent of Britain’s COVID-19 death toll, however, is not reflected in hospital numbers that exclude deaths in care homes, private residences and hospices.
Data published on Tuesday indicated the number of deaths was more than 40 per cent higher than the government’s daily figures indicated as of April 10, putting the country on track to become among the worst-hit in Europe.