health

Matt Hancock hopes Covid will become treatable disease by end of 2021


The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said he hopes coronavirus could become a treatable disease by the end of the year as the government launched a fresh drive to encourage people to accept a vaccine amid continuing reluctance among some groups to have the jab.

Ministers are confident they would achieve their UK-wide target of offering a vaccine to all those most at risk from the virus, including all over-70s, by Monday.

NHS England said everyone in the top four priority groups in England has now been offered the opportunity to be vaccinated, with 14 million of the target 15 million most vulnerable having already receiving their first jab. Wales said on Friday it was the first UK nation to meet its target.


Hancock said he hoped a combination of vaccines and new treatments would mean Covid-19 could be a “treatable disease” by the end of the year.

He expressed the hope that coronavirus would become “another illness that we have to live with” like flu. “I hope that Covid-19 will become a treatable disease by the end of the year,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“If Covid-19 ends up like flu, so we live our normal lives and we mitigate through vaccines and treatments, then we can get on with everything again.”

Now that the UK has authorised the first Covid vaccine, who will get it first?

The government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) says its priority is to prevent Covid-related deaths and protect health and social care staff and systems.

Elderly care home residents and their carers are first on the JCVI’s list because their risk of exposure to the virus is higher and because the risk of death closely correlates with older age. They are followed in priority by anyone else over 80 and frontline health and social care workers.

Even so, for pragmatic reasons NHS staff are likely to be the first group to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech jab. This is because the vaccine needs to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, which can be achieved more easily by using hospital facilities

Are there enough doses to reach all the priority groups?

Together, care home residents, their carers and the over-80s make up nearly 6 million people, and frontline NHS staff a further 736,685. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has said he expects 10m doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be available this year, so if this is the only vaccine authorised, everyone else would have to wait until further doses become available next year. 

Where will I go for the vaccine?

Covid-19 vaccines are expected to be delivered at three types of venue: NHS trust “vaccine hubs” at hospital sites; mass vaccination centres, which are in the process of being set up at places such as football stadiums, conference buildings and racecourses – these are expected to vaccinate up to 5,000 people a day; and at GP surgeries and pharmacies. GPs can also visit care home residents and housebound patients at home without them needing to travel.

How far apart will the two doses be administered, and will I protected after the first?

While there is some evidence to indicate high levels of short-term protection from a single dose of vaccine, a two-dose schedule is what has been approved by the MHRA.

The second dose will need to be delivered at least 21 days after the first, and both will be injected into the deltoid muscle – the thick triangular muscle we use to raise each arm.

For the Pfizer vaccine, its efficacy rate was calculated seven days after the second shot. It is likely that people will have some protection before this, but this is how long it will take for full protection to kick in. We will learn more about the extent of protection and how long it lasts as data from ongoing clinical trials comes in.

Can I pay to get the vaccine privately?

Unlikely. England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, has said he believes Covid-19 vaccines should be delivered according to clinical priority rather than allowing people to jump the queue if they can afford it.

Will I be able to choose which vaccine I have?

Also unlikely, at least in the short to medium term. Assuming more than one vaccine is approved, the priority will be distributing any available doses to the people who need it as quickly as possible.

Linda Geddes

However, there is concern at the rate of vaccine uptake among some communities, including some people of colour. Data shows that white people are almost twice as likely to have been vaccinated as black people among over-80s in England.

Hancock issued a direct appeal to anyone over 70 who has still not had the jab to contact the NHS over the weekend to book an appointment. “Vaccines are the way out of this pandemic,” he said.

Overall, uptake of the vaccine has been high, with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) reporting a 93% take-up rate among over-75s in England.

NHS England previously missed its goal of getting all care home residents vaccinated by 24 January amid warnings that some were too frail to travel to vaccination centres or feared infection if they do.

UK coronavirus deaths

About 30 ministers, including the home secretary, Priti Patel, and the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, are taking part in visits and virtual meetings to raise confidence in the jab.

“We recognise that some groups feel more hesitant about getting a jab, or have more barriers, both physical and mental, preventing them from accessing one when it’s offered,” Zahawi said.



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