Media reports of a coronavirus vaccine being introduced shortly after Christmas have been dismissed by a leading Scottish respiratory doctor who is also a piper.

Reports in at least two British newspapers at the weekend suggested the National Health Service’s staff will shortly undergo training to administer a vaccine before the end of the year.

AstraZeneca (AZ), a British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company, has produced a vaccine – called AZD1222 – that is undergoing clinicial Phase 3 trials at Oxford University. These trials involve 30,000 volunteers.

However, a senior Edinburgh-based respiratory doctor, who wishes to remain anonymous, urges caution. He told Bagpipe.News: “I don’t see how these trials should possibly result in a vaccine being rolled out so soon. It just isn’t possible. That’s not the way these things work. It takes years before any vaccine is ready for general release.

“These particular trials began in mid-August and the estimated primary completion date is at the beginning of December. The estimated study completion date is October 2022. Even then, you’re looking at a few months to analyse all the date etc. So, I don’t think there will be any mass rollout of this particular vaccine before early in 2023. These trials are, understandably, being fast-tracked at an unprecedented speed by dispensing with some of the administration, funding applications etc that are usually required, but still.

“Scientists are advising politicians that masks/coverings and social distancing will be needed until at least the summer of 2021 – so the pipe band season looks likely to be affected again.”

UK media reports quoted England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer as saying it isn’t unrealistic to suggest a vaccine could be ready in the new year. “Well, the word ‘ready’ is doing a lot of lifting there,” the doctor said.

“Look, pipers – in fact, anyone who may have read these media reports – need to know what is normally involved with clinical trials before a new drug is approved. There’s three phases:

  • The first phase is mainly about safety: a safe dosage is determined and side effects are identified. A small group of volunteers is involved at this phase.
  • Phase 2 tests things like toxicology and the effectiveness of the drug and further evaluation on how safe it is are introduced. This phases will normally involve something like 200 volunteers.
  • The third phase confirm the effectiveness of the drug. Side-effects are further identified and monitored and up to tens of thousands of volunteers will be used in this phase.

Following completion of the third trial, all the data is sent to the relevant regulatory authorities to determine if the drug can be approved. However, with all the Covid vaccines that are currently being tested, they are not going to wait for the third phase to complete. Instead, they are planning to launch directly after the second phase ends.

“People need to be aware that all these vaccine trials are only looking to see if these vaccines reduce symptoms that may be as mild as cough and headache. They are not requiring that the vaccines reduce the risk of infection, hospitalisation or death yet these are the most important ramifications of Covid-19 that people are most interested in preventing.

“My own view, and that of others, is that we should not be approving a vaccine that would be distributed to hundreds of millions of people globally on such slender threads of success.

“This can be a hugely complicated subject to discuss but suffice to say that for the majority of the population, under the age of 50-60, we really should not be rushing to vaccinate. We need the type of evidence for both safety and efficacy that can only be provided by a full trial period. No short cuts. Persuading, or even compelling, people to get vaccinated, when all we have are the Phase II studies to go on, ventures into extremely worrying territory, in my view. I hope these media reports are incorrect.”

Experts are concerned about the safety and efficacy of two coronavirus vaccines that were approved recently in Russia. Both were approved without entering Phase 3 clinical trials. The World Health Organisation is currently tracking 196 vaccine studies, of which 42 are being conducted on humans. Eight are in Phase 3.

• This new coronavirus disease is called Covid-19. It is one of the seven strains of the coronavirus. The virus that causes it is called SARS-CoV-2. This name was chosen because the virus is genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak of 2003.

Bruce Gandy at the 2014 Glenfiddich. Photo: Derek Maxwell.

Bruce Gandy, who is currently in Scotland preparing to compete at this year’s online Glenfiddich, is compiling an online diary on his YouTube channel about this year’s event.

Entitled ‘Road To The Glenfiddich Piping Championship’ episode 1 was uploaded last night by the Canadian piper. In a short – just over five minutes – clip, Bruce runs through his practice routine and discusses what he is working on ahead of the competition.

Bruce’s series will no doubt prove to be a fascinating account of how a leading piper approaches such an iconic piping event. As yet, Bruce Gandy has never won the Glenfiddich although he placed second in 2009 and again in 2014.

Tickets to watch this year’s online Glenfiddich can be purchased here: All ticket purchasers will be entered into a draw to win one of two sets of pipes – SL4 MacRae pipes from McCallum Bagpipes and PH1HT pipes from R.G Hardie. .