People must be told to keep social distancing and wearing face coverings even after they have had a Covid vaccine, SAGE has warned.
In a paper produced by the Government’s scientific advisers, experts said officials should make sure people understand they have to keep following the rules.
Although people who receive the vaccine should be protected from severe disease from two to three weeks after getting the jab, they could still spread the illness.
And until there is a ‘high degree of coverage’ which protects most of those at risk of death, social distancing must carry on as normal, the scientists said.
The paper was produced by SPI-B, a sub-group of SAGE that focuses on people’s behaviour and how it might affect the coronavirus outbreak.
They said they were fairly confident that ‘some of those who have been vaccinated will show a reduction in personal protective behaviours’.
Surges in infections could follow, they warned, which would be dangerous for others who hadn’t yet been vaccinated.
The Government has got the country’s biggest ever vaccination drive under way and has given immunisations to 1.3million out of the 13.9m people it plans to get protected by mid-February.
A huge vaccination programme is now under way in the UK as the Government plans to immunise 13.9million people against Covid-19 by mid-February (Pictured: A man receives a vaccine in his car a drive-through centre in Hyde, Manchester)
In a paper presented to SAGE and published today, SPI-B researchers said: ‘Indirect evidence from surveys conducted during the current pandemic as well as from previous vaccination campaigns suggest that, in the absence of any mitigation policies, some of those who have been vaccinated will show a reduction in personal protective behaviours.
‘These behaviours are those relating to hand and surface hygiene, use of tissues and face coverings, physical distancing and ventilating rooms.’
It added: ‘Adherence might decline if people feel less of a need for protection, or the rules and guidance seem less salient [important] to them as attention focuses more on the vaccine.’
It said the impact of people who had been vaccinated ignoring these rules was unknown.
But if it happened en masse it could lead to a spike in coronavirus infections among people not yet protected by immunisation.
Although vaccines are being given to the most vulnerable and elderly people first, it could be months before people in their 60s, 50s, 40s and younger get access to jabs, and the virus can kill them or make them seriously ill, too.
SPI-B said: ‘Given the very large cost to health, wellbeing and the economy of a reduction in adherence, we recommend preparing for, and taking action to mitigate any decline in adherence related to vaccine roll-out.’
The group told SAGE that the Government should start a ‘culturally tailored’ communication strategy making sure everyone understands they have to keep following the rules.
It said officials should try to monitor whether people who have been vaccinated are still following rules and intervene if they’re not.
The current vaccination policy aims to get jabs to the most vulnerable groups of people – the elderly, those who are shielding and NHS staff and care workers – by the middle of February.
If this is achieved, the national lockdown could ease at the end of next month.
But it is unlikely rules will be loosened in any meaningful way until around half the population of the UK has had a Covid vaccine.
The new fast-spreading variant of the virus, which emerged in Kent in September, means that outbreaks are harder to control and lockdown rules must be stricter.
The current national shutdown is seen as the tough final push to try and bring the UK’s crisis to an end around one year after it began.
SPI-B members pointed to a survey done in early December that found up to 40 per cent of people said they wouldn’t be as strict about following rules after getting a vaccine.
The YouGov survey found that 50 per cent of people said they would follow whatever rules were in place, 29 per cent said they would be less strict than before, and 11 per cent said they probably wouldn’t bother at all.
The remaining participants said they were not sure.
In a positive note, however, SPI-B said it believed people would continue to follow rules after a vaccine if it was explained to them why they needed to.
It added: ‘People adhere to Covid-19 protective behaviours in the interests of others (as well as themselves), and in the past have been willing to get vaccinated for others (e.g. during the H1N1 pandemic).
‘One might therefore expect that they will be willing to continue to adhere to rules and guidance once a vaccine is available if they are made aware that this is still necessary to protect others.’