Is the vaccine rollout enough to stop more lockdowns? Jab resistant strains a huge concern

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More than 10 million people in the UK have had both doses of the Covid vaccine, according to the latest Government data. That means more than 19 percent of UK adults are now fully vaccinated, while 33 million others have had a first dose. Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the news as a “remarkable milestone”. Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England said: “The success of the NHS vaccination programme is not a happy accident.”

Sir Simon added: “It is down to careful planning coupled with the sheer hard work and determination of doctors, nurses and countless other staff ably assisted by volunteers and many others.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons the Government is “on track” to offer a first dose to all UK adults by the end of July.

Mr Hancock also said the uptake of the jab had been “astonishingly high”, at 94 percent for all those aged 50 and over.

People aged 45 and over are now being offered a Covid vaccine in England and Scotland, and the rollout is expected to continue prioritising groups by age, according to advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

But while the vaccine rollout is undoubtedly a success, nobody knows whether the jabs will actually prove effective in stopping another lockdown or in preventing cases spiralling out of control again.

A modelling study by academics at the University of Warwick, published in Lancet Infectious Diseases, showed that even if the vaccination campaign stops 85 percent of Covid transmission, there could still be 21,000 deaths if all social distancing measures are lifted.

Spokesperson for the Healthcare Workers’ Foundation, Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya, told the vaccine rollout likely won’t be enough.

He said: “There isn’t one intervention that prevents the spread of coronavirus that’s 100 percent effective.

“Using a combination of these is what will ensure society can remain on a positive and normal trajectory.

“Vaccines are certainly our best method of keeping deaths and hospitalisations down, but ultimately no one measure can completely guarantee the prevention of catching or passing on the virus.”

Instead, it’s likely social distancing and mask wearing will be aspects of life under lockdown we will take with us going forward.

New variants of the virus have the most potential of disrupting the vaccination programme, as the developed immunisations may not be successful against mutated strains.

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Professor Martin Michaelis from the University of Kent told “Of even greater concern are new variants that may be able to infect vaccinated individuals or those who had previously been infected.

“Such so-called ‘escape’ variants have recently been described with increasing frequency in places such as Brazil, South Africa and the US.

“The emergence of these variants is not a surprise. Increased levels of immunity are associated with an increased selection pressure favouring novel virus variants that can bypass pre-existing immunity mediated by previous infections or vaccinations.

“If such escape variants are introduced into the UK, this may partly or largely undo our vaccine successes.”

For the best protection in the future and the avoidance of any more shutdowns, the country will “have to use all the methods we have available to us and use them in coordination”, says Dr Wijesuriya.

This includes social distancing measures, self isolation when cases are identified, and wearing face masks when out and about in public.

Dr Wijesuriya said all these actions working hand-in-hand will “really ensure we get back to, and maintain, some level of normality and avoid any future lockdowns”.

He concluded: “Now more than ever we must not get complacent but be vigilant and ensure we respect and use these measures.

“Managing local outbreaks with testing and local measures like we are currently doing in south London is crucial to avoid a rise in resistant strains.”

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