Health Minister Robin Swann has welcomed the “positive announcement” by Pfizer and BioNTech on the preliminary analysis of a new coronavirus vaccine.
But he has cautioned the public not to “let down their guard” despite progress towards mass vaccination in 2021.
The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is one of a number of Covid vaccines under development and undergoing testing.
Mr Swann stated: “We have been waiting a long time for positive news. While there are very important regulatory and safety assurance hurdles to still be cleared, today represents a step forward.
“While there are no guarantees, there is a possibility that vaccination of at risk sections of our community could begin by the end of this year.
“However, I would appeal to everyone not to let down their guard just because there is some light at the end of this very long tunnel. It will likely be well into 2021 before a vaccine is generally available to the population – not least because mass global vaccination is a huge logistical challenge.
“As I have said before, we are in for a hard slog this winter – in terms of intense pressures on our health service and unavoidable restrictions on our daily lives.
“We all have to redouble our efforts – continue limiting our contacts and keeping our distance from each other; wear face coverings when required; and keep washing our hands.
“But let’s be positive about the future. The incredible progress to date on developing a vaccine – together with planned mass testing and improved treatments – means we can look towards next Spring with some hope. Pessimists keep telling us we will be locked into endless stop-start cycles of restrictions. I have faith that they will be proved wrong.”
The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), an independent expert advisory group, will advise Government on which Covid-19 vaccine(s) should be used, and on the priority groups to receive the vaccine based on the best available clinical, modelling and epidemiological data.