Expert who predicted normality by spring after vaccine breakthrough 'got caught up in the moment'

Jimmy Nsubuga
·2-min read
Reguis Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford Sir John Bell speaks at the launch of the life sciences industrial strategy at the University of Birmingham's Institute of Translational Medicine, in Birmingham.
Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford Sir John Bell (AP)

A scientific adviser who predicted normality by spring following a vaccine breakthrough has walked back his comments after admitting he “he got caught up in the moment”.

US pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced on Monday their COVID-19 vaccine had been more than 90% effective in a trial of over 43,000 people.

Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and a member of the UK government’s vaccine taskforce, said the promising results could lead to a vaccine being distributed soon.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One if people could look forward to a return to normal life by spring, Prof Bell replied: “Yes, yes, yes, yes. I am probably the first guy to say that but I will say that with some confidence.”

He later told MPs he was “quite optimistic” of enough vaccinations being carried out by Easter for normality to begin to resume, provided authorities do not “screw up” distribution of the jab.

Watch: Johnson: Vaccine cleared one hurdle, but 'several more to go'

Prof Bell has now watered down his stance after saying he received a message telling him to “please shut-up about that”.

“I was caught in the moment I’m afraid,” he told BBC’s Newscast podcast on Tuesday.

He added the biggest obstacle of finding a vaccine which could prevent the disease had been overcome.

Prof Bell said: “I do think the world will look different in the spring, I said that yesterday and I believe it. I think that’s the timeframe.

He said issues could arise because some people may choose not to take the vaccine, but there were “lots of reasons for optimism.”

MAINZ, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 10: The headquarters of German immunotherapy company BioNTech is seen on November 10, 2020 in Mainz, Germany. BioNTech and its U.S. partner company, Pfizer, have signed a contract with the European Commission to deliver 200 million doses of its new Covid-19 vaccine. The two companies recently successfully completed phase III of their trials for the vaccine and will apply for approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) next week. BioNTech claims the vaccine provides 90% protection against Covid-19. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)
The headquarters of German immunotherapy company BioNTech in Mainz (Getty)

It comes after Boris Johnson urged the public to stick to COVID-19 rules despite the vaccine breakthrough.

The prime minister said the news was a sign the “scientific cavalry” was on its way but stressed it was “very, very early days”.

He told a Downing Street press conference on Monday the vaccine had cleared a “significant hurdle” but there were more to cross before it could be used.

The PM said the reproductive rate of the virus – the R value – was still above 1 and death numbers were rising.

“Irrespective of whether there is a vaccine on the way or not we must continue to do everything possible right now to bring the R down,” he said.

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