Covid vaccines couldn’t have been fast-tracked any quicker because the virus wasn’t deadly enough

Sir Chris Whitty told ministers Covid vaccines couldn’t be fast-tracked during the early days of the pandemic because the virus wasn’t deadly enough, according to leaked WhatsApp messages.

The chief medical officer was responding to a question by Dominic Cummings in February 2020.

Mr Cummings, then chief adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, asked about the credibility of a report that Israeli scientists were just weeks away from developing Covid vaccines.

But Sir Chris responded that a disease with a fatality rate as low as Covid’s — saying for argument’s sake that it was around 1 per cent — would need a ‘very safe’ vaccine and that no short-cuts could be taken.

‘There will be a lot of good vaccine candidates that enter early clinical trials in the next few months,’ he said.

Sir Chris Whitty reportedly told Dominic Cummings, then chief adviser to PM Boris Johnson, that Covid jabs could not be rushed as the virus wasn’t deadly enough

Sir Chris Whitty reportedly told Dominic Cummings, then chief adviser to PM Boris Johnson, that Covid jabs could not be rushed as the virus wasn't deadly enough

Sir Chris, pictured here in January, said standard safety tests for potential Covid jabs would be critical in leaked WhatsApp messages

‘The rate limiting steps are late clinical trials for safety and efficacy, and then manufacturing.

‘For a disease with a low (for the sake of argument 1 per cent) mortality a vaccine has to be very safe so the safety studies can’t be shortcut.’

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, also responded to Mr Cummings by saying while the Israeli team’s research could work, it wasn’t going to be a matter of ‘weeks’.

‘All of these approaches will take many months at the very and most optimistic best,’ he wrote.

‘Remember we still don’t have a vaccine that we know works for Zika yet despite lots of work over years.’

Almost 54million Brits have had at least one dose of a Covid vaccine since the roll-out started in December 2020 — just nine months after it was declared a pandemic.

The tranche of more than 100,000 WhatsApps were passed to The Daily Telegraph by the journalist Isabel Oakeshott (right), who was given the material by Matt Hancock (left) when they were working together on his book Pandemic Diaries

The tranche of more than 100,000 WhatsApps were passed to The Daily Telegraph by the journalist Isabel Oakeshott (right), who was given the material by Matt Hancock (left) when they were working together on his book Pandemic Diaries

But Mr Cummings would famously go on to claim to MPs in May 2021 that the UK’s vaccine rollout could have started months earlier in September, if the nation had abandoned traditional safety tests in favour of a ‘human challenge’ trial.

This would have seen ‘up to 10,000’ volunteers injected with the virus with their families given ‘£1 million or whatever’ if they died, the former advisor said.

Before Covid jabs became available, the general fatality risk of dying from the virus was estimated to be around 1 per cent.

However, individual risk of death from the virus, for example for the elderly, or for people with health conditions that made them more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus, could be much higher.

Once vaccines started to blunt the impact of the virus, the chances of dying fell to about one in 3,000 — similar to seasonal flu.

The WhatsApp group the messages were posted in included ministers, experts, and officials.

MailOnline has not seen or independently verified the WhatsApp messages, leaked to The Daily Telegraph by Isabel Oakeshott, the journalist who helped ex-Health Secretary Matt Hancock write his book Pandemic Diaries.


A fresh cache of 100,000 text and WhatsApp messages leaked to the Daily Telegraph by the ex-journalist who ghost-wrote Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries claimed:

  • Matt Hancock rejected the Chief Medical Officer’s call to test all residents going into English care homes for Covid
  • A minister in Mr Hancock’s department said restrictions on visitors to care homes were ‘inhumane’, but residents remained isolated many months on
  • Mr Hancock’s adviser arranged for a personal test to be couriered for Jacob Rees-Mogg’s child at a time of national shortage
  • Mr Hancock told former chancellor George Osborne, then editor of the Evening Standard, ‘I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!’ as he pushed for favourable front-page coverage
  • Mr Hancock allegedly met his 100,000-tests-a-day target by counting kits that were despatched before the deadline but might never be processed
  • Social care minister Helen Whately told Mr Hancock the testing system was ‘definitely working’ after she managed to secure a test ‘just’ 50 miles from where she lived.
  • Mr Osborne warned Mr Hancock that ‘no one thinks testing is going well’ in late 2020
  • The then prime minister, Boris Johnson, revealed he was going ‘quietly crackers’ about the UK’s shortage of test kits
  • Face masks were introduced in school hallways and communal areas after the PM was told it would avoid an ‘argument’ with Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon
  • Matt Hancock took ‘rearguard’ action to close schools after former education secretary Sir Gavin Williamson persuaded the PM to keep them open in January 2021
  • Sir Gavin said teachers were looking for an ‘excuse’ not to work during the pandemic
  • Ministers said there was ‘no robust rationale’ for imposing the ‘rule of six’ on children, but did it anyway
  • Pupils with false positive results on a lateral flow test had to isolate at home for ten days, even when they tested negative on a PCR, to avoid ‘unpicking’ the policy
  • The PM feared that he ‘blinked too soon’ in plunging the UK into a second Covid lockdown after being warned that gloomy modelling which bounced him into the move was ‘very wrong’
  • Mr Johnson was eager to ease curbs on retail, hospitality and gatherings in June 2020 but was told he was ‘too far ahead of public opinion’
  • Mr Hancock and top civil servant Simon Case joked about travellers ‘locked up’ in quarantine hotels during Covid lockdown
  • The minister said the Government should ‘get heavy with the police’ to help crack down on Covid lockdown rulebreakers
  • Mr Hancock’s team asked if they could ‘lock up’ Nigel Farage after he posted a video of himself in a pub when they suspected he was in breach of rules
  • • The former Health Secretary hoped the pandemic would ‘propel’ his career ‘into the next league’ and said he thought he ‘looked great’ in a picture in a MailOnline article
  • Mr Hancock referred to Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme as ‘eat out to help the virus get about’ and lobbied officials not to extend the scheme
  • • Mr Hancock clashed with the Treasury, calling Steve Barclay, now the Health Secretary, a ‘w***er’ and accused Mr Sunak of ‘showing ankle to the hard right’ by warning of a second national lockdown
  • In the hours after his affair with married aide Gina Coladangelo became public, he said the worst they could be accused of was kissing ‘before they legalised hugs’
  • Ministers sought to remove NHS England boss Lord Stevens just says after Covid was first detected, saying it would be a ‘massive improvement’
  • Mr Hancock plotted to have ‘worse than useless’ and ‘complete loudmouth’ Sir Jeremy Farrar, who is now the WHO’s top scientist, sacked from SAGE
  • Mr Hancock planned when to ‘deploy’ the news of a new Covid variant to ‘frighten the pants off’ the public so they complied with lockdown rules
  • The former Health Secretary branded the Government’s vaccine tsar Dame Kate Bingham ‘totally unreliable’ and ‘wacky’ after she said only the vulnerable needed to be vaccinated against Covid
  • Mr Hancock wanted to be the face of the vaccine rollout, planning to do media rounds and ‘own’ the news of the Covid jabs
  • Mr Hancock attempted to hide that he’d take Ms Coladangelo to a dinner with the US health secretary
  • Sir Chris advised ministers not to enforce the sex ban during the pandemic

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