Herd immunity ‘not likely for foreseeable future despite vaccine’

Jimmy Nsubuga
·2-min read
A woman wearing a face mask walks amid shoppers on Regent Street in London, England, on December 4, 2020. London has returned to so-called Tier 2 or 'high alert' coronavirus restrictions since the end of the four-week, England-wide lockdown on Wednesday, meaning a reopening of non-essential shops and hospitality businesses as the festive season gets underway. Rules under all three of England's tiers have been strengthened from before the November lockdown, however, with pubs and restaurants most severely impacted. In London's West End, Oxford Street and Regent Street were both busy with Christmas shoppers this afternoon, meanwhile, with the retail sector hoping for a strong end to one of its most difficult years. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Herd immunity will take a while to achieve in the UK (Getty)

The imminent rollout of a coronavirus vaccine will not lead to herd immunity in the foreseeable future, an expert has warned.

The UK will not be able to ease social distancing regulations anytime soon despite the approval of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine this week, according to Independent Sage member Professor Gabriel Scally.

He said while the 95% effective jab would make a “big difference” a lot was still unknown about it.

Prof Scally said it was not trialled on children or pregnant women, and we do not know the overall effectiveness of the vaccine when delivered in the population.

Watch: UK vaccine delivery hubs

Some experts estimate a COVID-19 vaccine will need to be accepted by at least 55% of the population to provide herd immunity while others suggest even higher numbers will be required.

Speaking at an Independent Sage briefing, Prof Scully said: “I personally don’t think we should be talking at all about herd immunity.

“For a whole string of reasons, I think herd immunity is not going to be possible for the foreseeable future.

“I think we need to concentrate on the realistic scenario – the vaccine is great, it’s going to make a big difference but it’s not going to be the whole answer.”

He added: “That’s one of the stories of Covid-19 – there is no silver bullet.

“We need all of the tools to reduce the prevalence of the virus that we can possibly deploy and the vaccine is absolutely one of them.”

Anthony Costello, a professor at University College London, said the data suggests it is inevitable there will be a surge in cases again before the year is over.

He said: “The positivity rate is still above the WHO threshold of 5% where they say you should take very strong measures to bring them down.

“So I think it’s inevitable we’re going to surge again, probably by Christmas and New Year.”

He added that every member of Independent Sage would get vaccinated and the panel supports the vaccines.

As the national lockdown ends and the new three tier system of local coronavirus restrictions begins, shoppers head out to Oxford Street to catch up on shopping as non-essential shops are allowed to reopen on 2nd December 2020 in London, United Kingdom. Many shoppers wear face masks outside on the street as a precaution as there are so many people around, as well as using hand sanitiser. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)
People will still have to follow social distancing and hygiene rules despite the vaccine (Getty)

Sir David King, the chair of Independent Sage, offered his support to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which has received some criticism from the international community due to the pace at which it approved the vaccine.

Sir David said: “This is our national drug regulatory body and the MHRA has a substantial international record.

“They would not be putting that record at risk under any sort of pressure from the Government.

“I’m really sure that these are people of integrity who will understand the nature of this particular pandemic and the reason they had to move quickly. But, I have to say, that I think we can trust their word on this.”

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