THE rapid progress of a new vaccine for coronavirus will not mean an early exit from social distancing controls in East Lancashire, a health boss has warned.

This week’s news that the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech research had produced an inoculation for Covid-19 which was 90 per cent effective raised hopes of an early exit from lockdown-type rules.

Blackburn with Darwen Council’s public health director Professor Dominic Harrison has cautioned against people getting their hopes up over a spring return to normal life.

His warning has been backed by Cllr Mohammed Iqbal, council leader in Pendle, parts of which have like Blackburn with Darwen been under tight controls since August.

Prof Harrison said: “The new vaccine success announced this week is great news for us all. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine announced as having successfully past a critical stage of testing this week may be only the first of a number of vaccinations that will pass safety and efficacy tests in the coming months.

“Currently there are 11 front runners. But will this really mean we can ‘return to normal’ in the spring?

“Assuming we have at least one vaccine ready, large scale vaccination of different groups is unlikely to start in earnest before the New Year. The vaccine will be given to the most vulnerable first probably starting with residents and staff in care homes and in other residential care settings.

“The vaccine will be delivered via GPs, mobile vaccination teams and from at larger scale vaccination centres including in Blackburn with Darwen.

“The target population level for herd immunity for Covid-19 is around 60 per cent of the population. It may take longer than ‘the spring’ to get 60 per cent of the population of the UK immune through vaccination – perhaps June – August is a more reasonable guestimate. But this will all depend on the availability of the vaccine itself and the numbers of staff that can be mobilised to do the vaccination. So we can’t be sure at this time.

“It is however clear that we will need to keep many of the Covid-19 controls in place for some time – at least until we have reached herd immunity.”

Cllr Iqbal said: “I agree with Professor Harrison. It will be well beyond the spring when most people in East Lancashire get this vaccine.”