COVID-19 vaccines will turn the virus into "the sniffles" – even if it can't stop new mutant variants, the head of the Oxford Vaccine Group has claimed.
Professor Andrew Pollard said jabs would have a "huge impact" on transmission of the variants that have so far been detected in the UK.
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He told MPs that while the spread of new variants would continue "into the future" this wouldn't matter if the jabs stopped people being admitted to hospital with Covid-19.
The UK's vaccine drive is in full swing and so far over 12.6 million people have had a first dose of either the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab or the Pfizer/BioNTech offering, with over half a million Brits having also had a second dose.
Speaking to the all-party parliamentary group on Covid-19 Prof Pollard said variants could spread fast as the vaccines are rolled out.
He said: "We might be generating enough immunity with the current generation of vaccines to stop severe disease.
“If people have just got the sniffles, then I think our job is done.”
There are concerns that new variants will be resistant to vaccines after Oxford scientists were forced to tweak their jab after they found it provided "minimal protection" against the South African variant.
Surge testing was last night announced in Lambeth, London, after cases of the South African variant were also discovered there.
Last night the Government's emergency virus group Nervtag confirmed a new variant detected in Bristol last week is now a "variant of concern".
And a variant found in Liverpool is "under investigation".
Commenting on the areas where new variants have emerged, Prof Pollard said there hasn't been a "sudden shift" where people who have been vaccinated are ending up in hospital after contracting the virus.
He did however add that the "jury is still out" on whether or not people would need to be re-vaccinated to keep people out of hospital.
It comes after the deputy chief medical officer for England said it was “not a surprise” to learn that people would likely need booster vaccines to protect themselves against new variants.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said if the South African variant did become more prevalent in the UK, people in high risk groups could be given an updated vaccine.
It would likely be a single shot either once a year or every two years.
“You can be re-vaccinated and we are taking a lot of steps behind the scenes to ensure that we can be in that position,” Prof Van-Tam said at Monday’s Downing Street briefing.
“Just as variations to the virus were inevitable, it's almost inevitable that we would at some point need variations to the vaccine. This is not a big fright, it is not a big surprise.”
The study of the Oxford jab in South Africa could not conclude whether the vaccine worked against severe disease in cases caused by the South African variants because the participants were young.
But AstraZeneca said it believes the jab will still protect against severe disease caused by the mutation.
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