The North West's Nightingale hospital could become a mass vaccination centre after the head of the NHS said the service was preparing to “fire the starting gun” whenever a Covid-19 vaccine was ready to be rolled out.

Sir Simon Stevens said a potential vaccination programme will see vaccines delivered at GP surgeries, pharmacies and mass testing centres – including at the Nightingale hospitals.

He said the fact that some vaccines needed to be stored at minus 70 degrees celsius, meant using the Nightingale hospitals would assist in this incubation. 

GPs will be put on standby from December should a vaccine be made available before Christmas, the NHS chief executive said.

But the “expectation” is that any vaccination programme would begin in the new year – pending positive results from the vaccine clinical trials.

It comes as the head of the UK’s vaccines taskforce said that data from the vaccine trials at the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca and Pfizer with BioNTech could be available this year.

But when Kate Bingham was asked by MPs about the chances of a vaccine at some stage in the next year which will wipe out coronavirus, she said: “Well, to wipe out coronavirus, I think very slim.

“To get a vaccine that has an effect both reducing illness and reducing mortality, very high.”

Ms Bingham said she has 50 percent confidence that by Easter or the early summer next year that all vulnerable people in the country will have a vaccine that will have some impact on reducing the dangers of Covid-19.

She said if she puts on “rose-tinted specs” she would hope to see positive interim data from both Oxford and Pfizer BioNtech on their potential vaccines in early December.

“And if we get that then I think we’ve got a possibility of deploying by year-end,” she said.

Professor Andrew Pollard, who is the head of Oxford’s vaccine trial team, said he is optimistic that the data on safety and efficacy of their vaccine will be available by the end of the year.

And he said there was a “small chance” of a vaccine being made available by Christmas.

Prof Pollard told the Science and Technology Committee that vaccines that show significant efficacy would be a “game-changer” for cancer patients, meaning that fewer people with Covid would be going into hospital, allowing cancer treatments to continue as normal. 

He also said that a vaccine that is at least 50 percent effective could “halve the number of deaths or hospitalisations here in the UK” which would be “a dramatic change from where we are today”.

The news comes as Sir Simon says family doctors will be ready to start by Christmas “if the vaccine becomes available”.

Work has been going on behind the scenes to prepare for any potential Covid vaccine and how it could be rolled out.

GP magazine Pulse reported on Tuesday that family doctors will be told to be prepared to start vaccinating over-85s and frontline workers from early December.

Sir Simon told a press conference: “Our expectation is that it will be the start of next year when the bulk of vaccine becomes available, assuming that the Phase 3 trials produce positive results.

“We are obviously planning on the off-chance that there is some vaccine available before Christmas.”

Some vaccines need to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, he said, adding: “So it’s going to be a combination of what GPs are able to do, what community pharmacists are able to do, but also mass vaccination centres, which is one of the purposes we will be using the Nightingale Hospitals for, and other locations as well.

“There will be roving teams who will prioritise care homes and social care staff and other vulnerable groups.

“But the bulk of this is going to be the other side of Christmas, but we want to be ready.”

Sir Simon said the NHS is “10 out of 10” on scale of readiness to roll out a Covid-19 vaccine if one were to become available before Christmas.

Sir Simon Stevens added: “Our job is to make sure that we are ready and waiting and able to fire the starting gun as and when.”

There are two frontrunners in the Covid-19 vaccine race – one from German biotech firm BioNtech and US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, and another being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca.

Both vaccines are currently in phase three of clinical trials.

Before any vaccine comes to the market, regulators have to confirm they are safe and effective.

The committee which advises the Government on vaccines has already set out the priority groups which should be vaccinated first.

According to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, older adults resident in a care home and care home workers should be the first to be given any approved vaccine.

All those aged 80 and over and health and social care workers are next on the priority list.