Health Secretary Matt Hancock says he can see an “end” to the pandemic after which the UK will manage coronavirus “more like flu” with repeated and updated vaccinations.
Just hours after announcing a new organisation to fight future pandemics, Mr Hancock expressed confidence in Britain’s ability to meet public health challenges in the future.
In response to a question from the Financial Times, he said: “It depends what you mean by ‘end’. I see an end where Covid is managed more like flu: we repeatedly vaccinate, we update the vaccines according to mutations and we manage the challenges, especially around transmissions over winter.
“I’m confident that’s where we can get to. I want to get to a position where we can have an updated vaccine in weeks or months, not a year,” he added.
A key component of achieving such an aim will be the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which Mr Hancock said would launch on April 1.
He told a briefing hosted by the Local Government Association that “UKHSA must plan, it must prevent and it must respond. UKHSA must be ready”.
He said: “UKHSA, as it will be known, will be this country’s permanent standing capacity to plan, prevent and respond to external threats to health.”
He said the agency would hire the “very best team possible from around the world” and be led by deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries as chief executive.
The West Suffolk MP told the FT the Government wanted UKHSA to be the leading European centre for life sciences.
“We’re going to make it impossible to choose anywhere else to put your life sciences manufacturing in the European timezone,” he said.
Earlier, Mr Hancock said the agency must be “vigilant, dynamic and confident”.
“This isn’t just an agency, its job is to provide professional leadership here and around the world,” he said.
UKHSA replaces the National Institute for Health Protection, which was established in August, with Baroness Dido Harding as its interim chairwoman. She will step down to make way for the new agency.
It also brings together Public Health England (PHE), NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC).