A LEADING academic has warned the government against spending billions preparing for the Pfizer vaccine.

Professor Phil Greening, of Heriot Watt University, has also said it is "not likely" the country will be prepared for mass immunisation by December.

With the reality of an effective jab on the horizon, he has cautioned Westminster and Holyrood chiefs against spending a fortune on a distribution network for the Pfizer inoculation.

The vaccine, which is thought to be effective against Covid-19 in nine out of 10 people, could be ready for distribution by next month but it needs to be stored at -80C for it to work.

This 'ultra-cold' state is part of the logistical challenge facing the country, particularly if the vaccine is manufactured overseas.

The professor, from the university's Centre for Sustainable Road Freight, explained that it may make more sense to prioritise the AstraZenica Oxford vaccine which can be made in the UK.

Professor Greening explained: "The general perception is that the AstraZenica vaccine is very close to being in the same stage as the Pfizer one, we're talking about weeks.

"If that is true, the question we have to face head on is to what extent do we want to invest in an ultra-cold supply chain distribution network when, in a couple of weeks' time, we may have a home-grown vaccine that we understand because we've run the trials...

"Because we've been involved in it, we know the stability of the vaccine and the sensitivities, and we already know that it maps much more easily to a supply chain that we're used to."

The academic, who is currently working on a distribution plan for the vaccine in Bangladesh, said it was "not likely" that the necessary technology needed to provide an ultra cold supply chain, from the factory where the vaccine will be made right through to hospitals where it would be stored before distribution will be ready by next month.

It comes after UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said earlier this week that the NHS would be ready any time from December 1 to "inject hope into the arms of millions this winter".

Yesterday, the deputy chief medical officer for England said he was "very reassured" that the NHS would be up to the ""mammoth task" of inoculating the population of the country.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said there would be more details released next week, but obvious questions include whether there is sufficient refrigeration capacity, transport systems are adequate and if there are enough needles and syringes.

He said: "The answer to which I am very reassured on all of those points. An absolute army of people have been working on this for months behind the scenes, quietly."

However Professor Greening was not so certain, adding: "It is not likely... The initial step is not going to be the biggest challenge. Yes we can get a fairly significant amount of doses into the vaccination process, but ramping up so that you're doing not thousands but millions of vaccinations is a challenge.

"The other thing that's been neglected in the general discussion is that the vaccine doesn't magically appear at a hospital.

"Normally its not a challenge to find a shipping container to store chilled goods, you can even do frozen goods down to - 20C. But once you start talking about going down to -80C, there really hasn't been much demand for that.

"We've got a challenge to get it over the sea, either in the air or on a boat and you've then got all the processes associated with ports and airports, meanwhile having to maintain the temperature regime."

Professor Greening said that not only are storage and transport facilities which can reach temperatures of -80C scarce, the whole world will be trying to get its hands on the limited supply.

He said: "As soon as you go into this frozen state, you have a much more demanding system. And we don't know the characteristics of the vaccine enough to be able to plan the detailed distribution.

"We know we can do it, it's just a question of how long will it take us to build that capacity.

"The technologies are not very common. Demand goes from virtually nothing for those technologies to absolutely everybody in the world wants one. That is also going to be a big challenge."