Sir Patrick Vallance says giving out Covid jabs every six months is ‘untenable’ and vaccine drive will eventually ‘settle into a routine programme’ like for flu
- England’s scientific adviser said many doses were needed to fight the new virus
- But as people get more vaccine doses they develop a broader immune response
- Sir Patrick added that it was not tenable to keep rolling out several jabs a year
Sir Patrick Vallance said Covid jabs may soon be offered once a year
Sir Patrick Vallance says giving out Covid jabs every six months is ‘untenable’ and that the vaccination drive will soon ‘settle’ into a yearly inoculation programme — similar to that for flu.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference tonight, England’s chief scientific adviser said jabs were being dished out so often because the virus was relatively new and people were still building up immunity.
But once adequate protection emerges, it is likely that several jabs a year will no longer be needed.
Sir Patrick said that every time someone is vaccinated or catches the virus their immunity is broadened, making it better at fighting off current and future variants.
He added that it ‘isn’t tenable’ to keep rolling out Covid vaccines several times a year, and that this was not the ‘long-term plan’.
It comes after Professor Andrew Pollard, who was part of the team that developed the Oxford Covid jab, warned administering booster vaccines to everyone every six months was ‘not sustainable’.
Speaking on the anniversary of the jab being dished out, he said future drives should target the most vulnerable, rather than adults.
The UK ordered 114million more doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines last month.
They are set to arrive over the next two years and will ‘future-proof’ vaccine stocks, although it is not clear how they will be used.
Israel has already approved fourth vaccine doses for the over-60s, while German health officials warn a second booster will be required to manage Omicron.
Sir Patrick has said Covid jabs could be offered once a year. Over the last 12 months Britons have been asked to get three Covid jabs
Pictured is a woman getting her Covid booster vaccine in Sevenoaks, Kent, at a pharmacy
The graph shows the countries who have given the highest total number of vaccine doses and boosters per 100 population. It demonstrates how a number of nations are now, on average exceeding two doses per person. The UK is a mid tier performer in the lower cohort of the top 20 performers while the US doesn’t even manage to make the cut
While only a mid-performer in the top 20 nations for vaccine doses per 100 people the UK is a top performer when it comes to comparing nations such as the US, Canada, Australia and Israel
Sir Patrick told a Downing Street press conference: ‘There will be some people who may require an additional dose but longer term I would think as this becomes a disease which is endemic, in other words we have it circulating and it comes back every year, it will be something like an annual vaccine like flu or something of that order which this moves to.
‘In years to come as we think about a longer term vaccine strategy, I don’t see this as something you end up having a vaccine from as frequently as we do now.
‘We need that because it is the very early stages of this disease and we need to get boosted for this variant at this moment.
A Covid vaccine booster designed to take on multiple variants has shown promising results, early data suggests.
Results of a phase one trial showed the jab, made by California-based biotechnology firm Gritstone, triggered high levels of neutralising antibodies.
The proteins help the body to fight off the virus, stopping it from infecting cells and taking hold.
The immune response was similar to already-approved mRNA vaccines, created by Pfizer and Moderna. But the team did, however, find antibody levels were up to 10 times lower among its volunteers.
Data also showed the vaccine, scientifically called GRT-R910, was also generally safe and well-tolerated.
The jab was initially trialled on 10 individuals but the researchers want to expand the study to include 120 over-60s, who are in good health and have previously received two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.
A universal Covid vaccine is a highly-coveted ‘Holy Grail’ among the pharmaceutical industry, with several candidates already in development.
‘So I think there will be a change over time and this will settle into a much more routine type of vaccine programme as we have for other infectious diseases.’
He added: ‘The good news is that as you get vaccinated more the immune sytsem broadens its response so that it covers more variants.
‘So the immune system tends to get broader as you get more exposed to infection or you get vaccinated and there are different parts of the immune system, some of which have a very long-lasting memory of what you’ve seen before and therefore will provide some durability.
‘I think Andrew Pollard’s right that it would be a situation that isn’t tenable to say everyone’s going to need to be having another vaccine every three or six months that’s not the long-term view of where this goes to.’
Britons have been asked to get three doses of the Covid vaccine over the last 12 months.
In December 2020 they were told to get two doses of the Covid vaccine 12 weeks apart, with older people and those most at risk from the virus first to be called forward.
Nine months later — in September — a booster programme was launched inviting all over-50s to get a third dose.
This was then widened in December to include all over-18s in an effort to stem the Omicron variant.
Department of Health figures show 34.3million Britons — or 60 per cent of over-12s — have already got three doses of the Covid vaccine.
Some 47.4million — or 82 per cent — have got two doses, and 51.8million — or 90 per cent — have had their first dose.
Boris Johnson today announced there would be no new Covid curbs in England which would stick to Plan B, and that the country can ‘ride out’ the Omicron wave.
The UK today recorded a record 218,724 infections, but this was because Northern Ireland reported four days of cases and Wales reported two days worth.
In England 148,725 Covid infections were recorded over the last 24 hours, which was a 27 per cent rise on last week.
Sir Andrew, who previously insisted boosters might not be needed, said earlier today: ‘The future must be focusing on the vulnerable and making boosters or treatments available to them to protect them.
‘We know people have strong antibodies for a few months after their third vaccine —but more data are needed to assess whether, when and how often those who are vulnerable will need additional doses.’
Has Omicron finally peaked in London?
The UK’s Covid infections yesterday increased by 44.6 per cent in a week as Boris Johnson suggested NHS staff could be moved to plug shortages amid fears about the Omicron wave triggering a lockdown by default.
UK Health Security Agency bosses reported a further 157,758 cases, a rise from the 109,077 cases which were reported in the country last Monday.
The number of people dying with the virus saw a 70.6 per cent decrease, with 42 deaths reported in the UK yesterday compared to 143 on December 27.
This is the thirteenth day in a row that cases have been above the 100,000 mark as the country moves out of the festive season and comes just days after the week-on-week increase was as high as 72.5 per cent on December 29.
Meanwhile the number of people being admitted to hospital in London has fallen, with 314 patients admitted to hospital on January 1, a 28 per cent decrease from the 437 admitted last Monday.
Today Professor in Medicine Paul Hunter said the latest data from the ZOE Covid study app suggested that infections in London peaked just before Christmas.
He wrote on Twitter: ‘Latest Zoe app data suggests that infections in London did peak a day or so before Christmas and are probably peaking nationally about now, though still region to region variation.’
He added: ‘We can’t vaccinate the planet every four-six months. It’s not sustainable or affordable. In the future, we need to target the vulnerable.’
Sir Andrew was chief investigator of the Oxford Covid vaccine trials and director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, which developed AstraZeneca’s jab.
A year on from AstraZeneca’s jab being administered to a member of the public, Sir Andrew expressed optimism going forward — even as the Omicron variant continues to ravage the UK.
‘The worst is absolutely behind us. We just need to get through the winter,’ he told the Daily Telegraph.
As for Boris Johnson’s current handling of the Omicron crisis, with his relatively light restrictions across England, he said: ‘[It] seems to be working so far. The system isn’t falling over. But it’s finely balanced.
‘We can’t fully answer whether he’s got it right for some time.’
In the 12 months since AstraZeneca was injected into Brian Pinker, 82, a dialysis patient in Oxford, 9billion Covid doses have been given worldwide.
In Britain alone, 90 per cent of over-12s have had their first vaccine and more than 80 per cent have had two doses, while 33million boosters have been given.
According to Sir Andrew, when the Oxford/AZ trials were first started in April 2020, vaccine scientists and investigators were told it would be two years before the vaccine could be rolled out.
With so much of the UK and other richer nations now vaccinated, he has added his voice to calls to ‘open up’, despite the ongoing threat from Omicron — which a plethora of studies have suggested is milder than previous strains.
Sir Andrew said: ‘At some point, society has to open up.
‘When we do open, there will be a period with a bump in infections, which is why winter is probably not the best time. But that’s a decision for the policy makers, not the scientists.
‘Our approach has to switch, to rely on the vaccines and the boosters. The greatest risk is still the unvaccinated.’
Some experts have warned the US, the UK and other major economies could be on the brink of over-vaccinating people in the fight against Covid.
Scientists argue that rolling out vaccines every three-to-four months simply isn’t ‘doable’ and may not even be necessary because of Omicron, which some believe will speed up the process of endemicity and consign days of sky-high hospitalisation and death figures to history.
And they called for more data on dosing gaps between boosters before pressing ahead with plans to administer fourth jabs.
Some experts claim the benefits of extra jabs are minimal because their primary purpose — preventing deaths and hospitalizations — has barely waned after a year and several Covid variants, effectively meaning boosters are adding to an already high base level immunity.
Sir Andrew told Sky News: ‘Today, less than 10 per cent of people in low income families have even had their first dose, so the whole idea of fourth doses globally is just not sensible.
‘It may be that as the science evolves we can work out who the most vulnerable are in populations and target future boosters for them to maintain their protection.
‘But for the vast majority of people now who are vaccinated, the risk is extremely low of severe Covid and it’s likely we’ll reach a point where we’re focusing those booster doses on those who most need them.
‘Does that mean we’ll need updated vaccines each year? We need more data to make those decisions.’
He said that, despite the UK’s high daily Covid cases, there is ‘still very good control of severe disease as a result of vaccination’.
The UK Health Security Agency has announced more than 150,000 cases for six days in a row, while there have been more than 100,000 infections registered per day for nearly two weeks.
Sir Andrew said: ‘I don’t think we’re completely over Omicron, certainly not in the UK and even less so in many other countries, and there’s still some weeks for all of that to play out.
‘But generally the news is relatively good from an overall perspective in that it does seem to be causing milder disease, but that doesn’t mean that our health system – which is very much on the edge in normal times – is going to be able to cope with the increase in cases.
‘So I think we do still have to have measures in place that protect the health service during this winter.’
He said leaders are working on how the country transitions to an open society that protects vulnerable people.
‘Third doses have been given and we’ve been trying to manage the amount of cases so that the NHS is protected, but as we go forwards into the year ahead, working out how to live better with the virus is going to be the critical next step,’ Sir Andrew said.
But he warned it is not clear why Omicron is causing more mild disease or that future versions of Covid will be similarly less severe.
Updated versions of Covid jabs may be needed to ‘manage living with the virus in the future’, Sir Andrew said.
Vaccine makers are already working on tweaking the current crop of jabs in case they are needed against Omicron.
But these won’t be ready for months and so far the current vaccines are holding up against severe Covid outcomes.
He warned that misinformation spread about Covid vaccines undoubtedly cost lives.
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