ROYAL Berkshire Hospital bosses say they are “ready” to vaccinate staff against Covid-19 but no one will be forced to take the vaccine.

It comes after health secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS will be asked to roll out a vaccine in December if it is approved, but there "are no guarantees".

Pfizer and BioNtech plan to apply for emergency approval for their vaccine in the coming days, after their trials found it was 95 per cent effective against the virus.

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US firm Moderna is also preparing to apply for approval for their vaccine, as trial data suggests it is 94.5 per cent effective.

Testing of the Oxford vaccine is at an earlier stage (phase two of three) but researchers have found that it produces a strong immune response in people in their 60s and 70s.

“We’re ready to administer the vaccine to our staff,” said Dom Hardy, chief operating officer at Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust.

“We’ll strongly encourage staff to have their Covid vaccine in the same way we strongly encourage them to have their flu vaccine.

“We’ll do that in a supportive way, by providing as much information as we possibly can.

“But I don’t know of any legal means we can use, even if we wanted to which I don’t think we would, to mandate the use of a vaccine.”

Mr Hardy said more than 70 per cent of staff have agreed to take the flu vaccine this year, which is “a new record”.

He also said Royal Berkshire Hospital has seen the number of Covid-19 cases “very gradually increase” over the last two months and staff are coping well with the current demand.

“I definitely expect us to cope,” he said.

“At the moment, we’re not seeing that real increase in cases and hospital admissions that we saw in the first stage of the pandemic.”

The latest NHS figures show that on November 5 – when the national lockdown began – 65 beds at Royal Berkshire Hospital were occupied with Covid-19 patients.

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On that day, just one of the trust’s mechanical ventilation beds was occupied by a patient with the virus.

Between March 19 and November 4, 132 people were admitted to the hospital with Covid-19 and 745 inpatients were diagnosed with the virus after admission.

The trust has discharged more than 500 patients after treating them for the virus but also recorded 246 Covid-19 related deaths.

Mr Hardy’s comments came at a meeting of Wokingham Borough Council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee on November 18.