As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread across the country and around the world - questions about a vaccine are now being raised.

The Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance has confirmed that work on a vaccine is already underway, but won't be likely to be ready in time to stop of full UK outbreak.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Sir Patrick said while “it's not unreasonable to assume that we will end up with a vaccine”, it will likely take between a year and 18 months before it is ready.

Is a vaccine being developed for the coronavirus?

In early January, the Chinese government made its information on the coronavirus’s RNA sequence publicly available so that researchers around the world could get to work on developing a vaccine.

A vaccine works by providing an individual with acquired immunity to a particular infectious disease by exposing them to it in a controlled fashion, so having this information has provided a huge boost.

As a result, work has already begun in the USA, Europa and Australia, with more than 30 different institutions currently working on a vaccine.

Researchers at Australia’s Doherty Institute were the first to grow a live sample of the virus outside of China, further boosting international efforts to manufacture a vaccine.

A team of researchers working for American pharmaceutical giant Inovio are currently working on a vaccine for the coronavirus.

Scottish scientist Dr Kate Broderick confirmed on Thursday, March 5, that the vaccine has already been through successful animal trials and will begin human testing shortly.

The project is currently months ahead of schedule and will now aim to begin clinical trials in April.

When will it be ready?

While the speed at which the vaccine is being developed is “unprecedented” according to Dr Broderick, there is still a long way to go before it could become publicly available.

Historically, vaccines have taken years to develop and, while the international co-operation on show may drastically reduce that timeframe, the World Health Organisation has said that it could still be as long as 18 months.

Sir Patrick Vallance, has said he does not think a working vaccine will be produced in time for the coronavirus outbreak.

In his BBC Radio 4 interview, he added: "I don't think we will get the vaccine for this outbreak. I don't think we'll get something in time or at scale for this outbreak."

Assuming the clinical trials go ahead in April, they will take months to complete.

Rigorous clinical tests have to be carried out gradually over a long period of time to ensure that the vaccine is both safe and effective.

If the trials all prove successful and the vaccine is cleared for use, there is still the matter of mass-producing it at a level high enough to combat the rapidly spreading virus.

It is expected to be some time next year before a vaccine becomes available.

Like Dr Broderick, Sir Vallance was quick to emphasise how impressive the progress has been, saying that the idea of having a vaccine ready in 18 months was “remarkable when you consider just a few years ago it would have taken 20 years to do that.”

There is then the further problem that the virus could continue to mutate in ways that would render the vaccine ineffective.

It could even evolve differently in different parts of the world, depending on the conditions.

What treatments are available?

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccines are our best method for preventing the spread of infectious diseases.

They are the reason that smallpox has been eradicated and that polio, measles and tetanus have been removed from much of the world.

Developing a vaccine would almost certainly be the best method of truly defeating the coronavirus.

However, at the moment, preventing the spread of the disease is still the top priority.

To do so, it’s best to focus on basic procedures like thoroughly washing hands, coughing into the elbow and self-isolating if you do become unwell.

For those who do become infected, the symptoms are usually quite mild.

Outside of the elderly and members of other vulnerable groups, most people will recover perfectly well simply by treating the virus like any other cold-type bug.

Other anti-viral drugs are also undergoing clinical trials at the moment but it is unclear if any of them will prove successful.