Social distancing rules will need to be kept in place in the UK until ‘everybody’ has been vaccinated, according to a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
Professor Jeremy Brown said ‘some degree of social distancing or protection is going to be required’ until the whole nation has had the jab.
He said the rules will need to be retained because people who have not had the jab could still be at ‘high risk of disease’.
Vaccine supply delays mean it will be the end of July before all adults in the UK are inoculated, the professor said.
The Government has not committed to a date for lifting all social distancing rules.
But under Boris Johnson’s roadmap ministers have committed to updating advice on social distancing between friends and family no later than step three in the strategy, set for May 17.
The Government has not committed to a date for lifting all social distancing rules but under Boris Johnson’s roadmap ministers have committed to updating advice on social distancing between friends and family no later than step three in the strategy, set for May 17
Prof Brown was asked during an interview on Sky News what the purpose of a coronavirus vaccine programme is if people are still required to follow mask and social distancing rules.
He replied: ‘Essentially, until we can suppress infection going around the country, which means vaccinating everybody, then some degree of social distancing or protection is going to be required, just because even if a small proportion of people have not been vaccinated or where the vaccine has not worked very well, we have a high risk of disease if we have no control of infection and the control of infection comes in once a very high proportion of the country have been vaccinated.
‘We now know that the vaccine does prevent transmission to a degree but that only works on a population level once you have vaccinated a high proportion of the population, so that’s phase two of the vaccine programme.’
Prof Brown said a ‘very large number’ of at-risk people could develop a ‘serious’ Covid-19 infection if restrictions are lifted too quickly.
He said: ‘Well, this is a slightly complicated and tricky thing to describe but at the moment we have roughly 90, 95 per cent of people who are high risk being vaccinated.
‘But that final 10 per cent of people is still a significant number and also we have mainly done one dose of vaccine which gives most of the protection but not all the protection and until we have done the second dose and everybody has been vaccinated, there is a little degree of infection which can still occur.
‘So if you completely lift all restrictions there will be a wave of infections crossing the country and those that are not protected, either because the first vaccine hasn’t worked very well in them and they need their second dose, or because they have not had a vaccine at this point in time but are still vulnerable, they will get infections and they will probably end up in hospital and die.
‘So, if you lift restrictions, even though most people at risk have been vaccinated, the proportion left who have not still represents a very large number of people who could end up with serious infection.’
He added: ‘I suspect our vaccine programme will be delayed slightly compared to where we hoped it might have been a few weeks ago but then, at that point, we were actually ahead of schedule so we are probably going to fall back to the original schedule and end up with them being offered the vaccine by towards the middle or the end of the summer, I suspect.
‘I think July, August, those are the ballpark areas where we hope every adult has been offered their first dose of the vaccine.’