health

Vaccines not lockdown to blame for rapid drop in cases, top scientist says


Vaccines are behind Britain’s sharp drop in coronavirus cases since January, top experts claimed today — despite Boris Johnson insisting lockdown was the reason for the fall.  

Professor Tim Spector, a King’s College London epidemiologist who runs the UK’s largest Covid symptom tracking study, said the epidemic had ‘mainly’ been squashed by the ‘exemplar vaccine programme’.

With more than 60 per cent of the population jabbed with at least one dose and up to 10 per cent protected due to prior infection, Professor Spector added Britain was ‘starting to see herd immunity take effect’.

His comments come after data from his symptom-tracking app showed a 17 per cent drop in daily cases last week, with an estimated 1,600 new symptomatic infections a day across the country — down from 60,000 at the peak in January.

Separate Test and Trace figures showed new cases in England had dipped by 34 per cent last week, with 19,196 positive tests recorded in the seven days to April 7 — compared to 29,178 at the end of March. 

Professor Spector said: ‘As the UK slowly exits lockdown, I’m encouraged to see Covid cases continue to fall with our rates among the lowest in Europe. 

‘In fact, the UK closely mirrors cases in Israel with its exemplar vaccine programme. Based on our data and countries like Israel, I believe the fall in cases since January is mainly thanks to the vaccination programme and less about the strict lockdown the UK has been under since late December. 

‘With up to 60 per cent of the population vaccinated and around 5 to 10 per cent with natural immunity due to infection, we’re starting to see herd immunity take effect. This should prevent future large-scale outbreaks.’

Professor Spector warned it was inevitable cases would pick up again as restrictions are eased over the coming months. But he said any outbreaks would be ‘smaller’ and ‘manageable’ and among groups yet to be vaccinated.

It comes after the Prime Minister claimed the reduction in Covid infections, hospitalisations and deaths was down to lockdowns and was not achieved by the roll-out of vaccines. In a significant toning down of his praise for the jabs, he said the ‘bulk of the work’ in reducing the disease was done by brutal restrictions.

The Government’s own analysis has shown the vaccines have so far prevented 10,000 Covid deaths and are reducing hospitalisations by more than 80 per cent. Experts told MailOnline today the PM’s comments were ‘slightly misleading’ and suggested it was an attempt by Downing Street to keep people in check as lockdown is lifted. 

King's College London's study of more than a million Britons showed daily cases have fallen by 17 per cent in the last week, with an estimated 1,600 new symptomatic cases a day across the country

King’s College London’s study of more than a million Britons showed daily cases have fallen by 17 per cent in the last week, with an estimated 1,600 new symptomatic cases a day across the country

Test and Trace data indicated a 34 per cent drop in Covid cases over the seven days to April 7 compared to the previous week, after 19,196 people tested positive for the virus

Test and Trace data indicated a 34 per cent drop in Covid cases over the seven days to April 7 compared to the previous week, after 19,196 people tested positive for the virus

With more than 60 per cent of the population vaccinated with at least one dose and up to 10 per cent of people protected due to prior infection, Professor Tim Spector said Britain was getting close to achieving 'herd immunity'

With more than 60 per cent of the population vaccinated with at least one dose and up to 10 per cent of people protected due to prior infection, Professor Tim Spector said Britain was getting close to achieving ‘herd immunity’

What is herd immunity? 

Herd immunity is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection.

Effectively, it means that once people have some form of immunity, it reduces the ability of a disease to spread among the population.

Therefore, someone who has antibodies either through previous infection or vaccines, acts as a ‘barrier’ to the virus.

If you have enough ‘barriers’ then the disease cannot effectively spread through a population.

But in the case of a new virus, such as with Covid-19, the virus can spread essentially without any barriers – which can lead to a pandemic.

The World Health Organisation says it supports achieving herd immunity through vaccination, not by allowing a disease to spread through any segment of the population.

But one expert told MailOnline that Covid-19 is here to stay and that the key is reaching a ‘herd immunity threshold’.

This keeps the virus at what is known as an endemic level – where a disease is regularly found among the population but is not harmful enough to impact on society.

Keeping Covid-19 within the herd immunity threshold, which can vary particularly in winter when diseases such as flu and coronavirus spread quickly, will mean it is kept at a ‘manageable level’, the expert added.

Research shows the current crop of Covid vaccines help by increasing the antibody response to the virus – therefore heavily reducing the risk that someone can be made seriously ill.

But data is not yet available about how effective the vaccinations are at preventing transmission. 

Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline: ‘The vaccines wouldn’t have had much effect on the overall epidemic until the end of February/early March because they were not in enough arms yet, so you could say the initial drop was probably due to lockdown.

‘But I think the comments were slightly misleading because now that 60 per cent have been given the jab, it’s absolutely the case the vaccines will be doing the heavy lifting from now on.’ 

Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London and health analytics firm Lane Clark & Peacock LLP, said: ‘The January lockdown clearly helped break the chain of transmission resulting in cases and deaths declining across the whole population. 

‘The greatest declines in infection and mortality rates however were seen in the older and more vulnerable groups who had received Covid-19 vaccination during this period.’ 

Internal NHS figures released yesterday show Covid admissions in A&E are down 76 per cent among people aged 80 to 83 vaccinated with Pfizer’s jab, and positive tests down 70 per cent.

The improvements were seen from 35 days after people’s first vaccine doses and based on eight out of 10 getting their second jab within four weeks. Therefore, the findings are not specifically about effectiveness after either one dose or two doses.

Statistics show that over-65s now make up a smaller proportion of hospital patients than they did before vaccines, accounting for 49 per cent in March compared to 70 per cent in December.

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the health service in England, said yesterday the ‘vaccines are successfully reducing hospitalisations and deaths’.

Public Health England’s real-world analysis of both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccine suggests both jabs cut transmission by up to 70 per cent and slash deaths and hospitalisations by over 90 per cent, after full vaccination. The figures are slightly less in people after their first dose.

Today’s figures from the Covid Symptom Study UK Infection Survey, ran by researchers at King’s and health tech firm ZOE, are based on around one million weekly users of the app. 

Estimates were made based on users’ feedback and almost 6,000 recent swab tests done between March 27 and April 10. 

Researchers believe about one in 2,000 people across Britain are carrying the disease at any given time, bringing the R value to around 0.8.

The found on average there were 1,601 daily cases across the UK in the most recent recording period, compared to 1,924 daily infections the week before. The figure was 1,271 for England.

Professor Spector argued the UK was on the cusp of achieving herd immunity, when so much of a population has protection against a virus through vaccines or previous infection that it starts to decline naturally.

Experts are torn over the exact percentage needed to achieve herd immunity but believe it will be at least 75 per cent. Top US medical official Dr Anthony Fauci has previously suggested it could be as high as 90 per cent.

The UK government’s Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance quoted a figure of 60 per cent back in March 2020 but scientists now believe it is much higher than that because the virus is more transmissible than previously thought.

However, true herd immunity will likely only be attained if there is even jab coverage around the country. In London, uptake rates have been below 60 per cent in some parts, compared to more than 80 per cent in most other areas.

Last week modelling by University College London (UCL) suggests that 73.4 per cent of the population will have protection against Covid by the middle of this month. 

UCL theoretical neuroscientist Professor Karl Friston told The Daily Telegraph on April 7: ‘Over 50 per cent of adults have been vaccinated, around 42 per cent of people have now been exposed to the virus and about 10 per cent have pre-existing immunity.

‘When factoring in the estimated efficacy of vaccination in terms of sterilising immunity, this – according to the model – means about 70 per cent of the population are immune.

‘Based upon contact rates at the beginning of the pandemic and estimated transmission risk, this is nearly at the herd immunity threshold.’ 

UCL’s modelling examines real-time deaths, infections, vaccinations and hospital admissions – among other factors – to determine Britain’s current R Rate of 1.12.

Meanwhile, separate data from Test and Trace released today found that of the 3.7million swabs completed in England during the seven days to April 7, only 19,000 spotted the virus, indicating a positivity rate of 0.5 per cent.

Although a million more swabs were done in the previous week, the proportion of all these that identified the virus was 0.6 per cent. This suggests cases are still dropping.  

The study found a clear reduction in the rates of positive tests, A&E visits and hospital admissions for Covid for people who were vaccinated (blue line) compared to people of a similar age who weren't vaccinated (orange line)

It found that, as the time since vaccination increased, the effect became stronger (purple line), with A&E attendances and hospital admissions dropping to 75 per cent lower than in non-vaccinated people

The study found a clear reduction in the rates of positive tests, A&E visits and hospital admissions for Covid for people who were vaccinated (blue line) compared to people of a similar age who weren’t vaccinated (orange line). It found that, as the time since vaccination increased, the effect became stronger (purple line), with A&E attendances and hospital admissions dropping to 75 per cent lower than in non-vaccinated people

Separate NHS data show that an average of 175 people are now admitted to hospital with Covid each day in England. The number is a fraction of the 4,000 per day at the height of the second wave in January

Separate NHS data show that an average of 175 people are now admitted to hospital with Covid each day in England. The number is a fraction of the 4,000 per day at the height of the second wave in January

Just 175 Covid patients were admitted to hospitals across England on Sunday, Department of Health data shows. This is the lowest level since mid-September when ministers were happy to allow Britons to sit inside pubs despite no one being jabbed

Just 175 Covid patients were admitted to hospitals across England on Sunday, Department of Health data shows. This is the lowest level since mid-September when ministers were happy to allow Britons to sit inside pubs despite no one being jabbed

Despite the wealth of evidence showing the success of the jabs, the PM claimed this week that lockdown —not vaccinations — were driving down infections, hospitalisations and deaths. 

Speaking the day after No10’s easing of lockdown restrictions saw pub gardens, shops, gyms and hairdressers reopen, Mr Johnson said it was the national shutdown that had been ‘overwhelmingly important’ in driving down rates.

He said: ‘The numbers are down — of infections and hospitalisations and deaths. 

‘But it is very, very important for everybody to understand that the reduction in these numbers, in hospitalisations and in deaths and infections, has not been achieved by the vaccination programme.

‘People don’t, I think, appreciate that it’s the lockdown that has been overwhelmingly important in delivering this improvement in the pandemic and in the figures that we’re seeing.

‘And so, yes of course the vaccination programme has helped, but the bulk of the work in reducing the disease has been done by the lockdown.

‘So, as we unlock, the result will inevitably be we will see more infection, sadly we will see more hospitalisation and deaths, and people have just got to understand that.’

The comments marked a significant shift in tone by the PM, who has repeatedly hailed the vaccines as a ‘one-way road to freedom’ and said they had ‘thrown a shield’ around the entire population.  

Justin Trudeau tries to deflect criticism for Canada’s sluggish jab roll out by claiming Britain is facing a ‘very serious’ Covid third wave as cases soar in his country… but experts tracking UK’s outbreak have NO idea what he is on about 

Justin Trudeau faced fury today after claiming Britain is facing a ‘very serious third wave’ in a desperate attempt to deflect criticism for his country’s sluggish vaccine rollout and surging infections. 

The Canadian premier referred to the UK’s hugely successful drive, which has 60 per cent of the population given jabs compared to just 20 per cent in Canada, as he sought to justify keeping tough restrictions.

‘Vaccinations on their own are not enough to keep us safe,’ he told MPs in the country’s parliament.

‘We know for example that the UK is ahead of just about everybody else on vaccination and yet they maintain very strong restrictions and are facing a very serious third wave.’ 

But Tories accused Mr Trudeau of ‘fake news’, telling MailOnline he should ‘butt out’ and focus on his own country’s woes. Scientists tracking the spread of the virus also rubbished the Canadian premier’s comments, insisting the UK is in a ‘stable’ position.

Conservative MP Peter Bone said Mr Trudeau seemed to be deploying a similar tactic to the EU. ‘When they were in trouble on their poor performance of vaccination, they went on the attack trying to hit out at everyone and everything including the UK. Maybe this is the old saying, ‘the best form of defence is attack’ – even if there is no foundation to it.’ 

He added: ‘It would sound to me, like with the EU, there’s a lot of fake news in what he is saying. He should butt out of UK affairs and concentrate on running his own country, which he doesn’t seem to be doing very well.’ 

Professor Tracy Hussell, an immunologist and director of the Lydia Becker Institute of Immunology and Inflammation at Manchester University, said: ‘I don’t really know what his fears are based on. I think clarification of that would certainly be useful. The UK is in a relatively stable position at the moment.’

Asked whether there was any sign of a third wave in the data, she said ‘not at the moment’ adding that hospitals have remained ‘calm’ and there are no clear signs of an uptick. 

On Monday, Canada recorded a record 10,859 new cases compared to 2,491 cases on the same day in the UK - a resurgence which infectious disease experts blame on 'pandemic fatigue', the early lifting of lockdown curbs and the appearance of more transmissible variants

On Monday, Canada recorded a record 10,859 new cases compared to 2,491 cases on the same day in the UK – a resurgence which infectious disease experts blame on ‘pandemic fatigue’, the early lifting of lockdown curbs and the appearance of more transmissible variants

Cases in the North American country, which was praised by pundits for its early response to the coronavirus outbreak but has struggled to get its vaccine programme up to speed, recently hit 207.3 per million people, according to data from Johns Hopkins University – exceeding even the staggering 206.7 per million recorded in the US.

On Monday, Canada recorded a record 10,859 new cases compared to 2,491 cases on the same day in the UK – a resurgence which infectious disease experts blame on ‘pandemic fatigue’, the early lifting of lockdown curbs and the appearance of more transmissible variants.

While Britain roars ahead with its hugely successful vaccine rollout, with more than 32 million people having already received a first dose and now being offered the jab to over-45s in England, Canada has inoculated just a fifth of its population against the virus.

The Canadian government even suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in under-55s amid frenzied concerns it could cause blood clots in young people, and especially women – despite the claims of EU regulators that the shot does not cause the rare phenomenon.

Amid growing pandemic fatigue, hundreds of protesters in Montreal chanting ‘Freedom for the young’ clashed with riot police as they smashed windows and set bins alight during a demo against a draconian curfew extended and expanded by local authorities. 

Yet despite this, Mr Trudeau claimed during a Question Time in the Canadian House of Commons on Wednesday that Britain was ‘facing a very serious third wave’ of Covid-19 cases – despite no evidence yet showing that the country is on the cusp of another outbreak.

Dismissing the efficacy of vaccines, the Canadian premier said restrictions such as mask mandates and social distancing would help reduce cases and deaths, in an echo of Boris Johnson’s claims yesterday that lockdowns saved lives – and urged MPs to ‘engage in the right kind of behaviour’. 

 



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