Covid vaccines ‘almost certainly less effective’ at reducing transmission of Indian variant, experts warn


COVID vaccines are “almost certainly” less effective at cutting transmission of the Indian variant, a government adviser has warned.

But other experts urged Boris Johnson to “hold his nerve” as the jabs should stop serious disease from the variant.

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People in Bolton queue for a vaccine, with the area currently experiencing a spike in cases from the new Indian variant

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People in Bolton queue for a vaccine, with the area currently experiencing a spike in cases from the new Indian variantCredit: AFP

The PM cautioned last night that the June 21 easing of restrictions could be jeopardised by the spread of the new mutation of the disease.

Sage, the Government’s scientific advisory group, warned the Indian variant may be 50 per cent more transmissible than the Kent variant, which is currently dominant.

There are fears the Indian Covid strain could lead to 1,000 deaths a day, with the Army being deployed to help surge testing in the worst-hit areas, such as Bolton and Blackburn.

Sir Mark Walport, a member of Sage, said the race between the spread of coronavirus and the vaccination rollout was “on a knife edge”.

But hospitalisations in the over-60s, who are most at-risk from serious infection, remain low, with data suggesting the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are effective against the variant.

Prof Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The vaccines may be less effective against mild disease but we don’t think they’re less effective against severe disease.

“But in combination with being less effective against mild disease, they’re almost certainly less effective against transmission.”

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He added: “That’s why we’re imploring [local authorities] to get out there and vaccinate their unvaccinated people.”

Cases of the Indian variant have nearly tripled in the past week to 1,313.

Last night, Mr Johnson vowed “we will be throwing everything we have at this task” to combat the Indian variant of most concern, B.1.617.2.

Second doses are being speeded up for over-50s and clinically vulnerable, with the time from the first dose slashed from 12 weeks to eight weeks.

The vaccines may be less effective against mild disease but we don’t think they’re less effective against severe disease

Prof Harnden

Yesterday’s sober Downing Street press conference came just two days before the UK’s lockdown restrictions ease, with hugs and indoor pubs and restaurants allowed again from Monday.

Mr Johnson warned: “I have to level with you that this could be a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to move to step 4 in June.

“It’s more important than ever, therefore, that people get the additional protection of a second dose.”

But Professor Robert Dingwall, who sits on the JCVI, warned local lockdowns and surge testing would do little to stem the spread of the variant.

Boris said the new variant is spreading more easily

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Boris said the new variant is spreading more easily

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He said: “The government needs to hold its nerve rather than allow itself to be pushed to measures that are unnecessary, demoralising and won’t work.

“The evidence just isn’t there yet. We have reports from India that vaccinated people, like medical workers, aren’t getting the infection.

“The Indian variant has been around long enough for hotspots to be seeing a rise in admissions, but we haven’t seen any uptick.

“We have a rise in reported infections, but that does not seem to be translating into hospitalisations.”

In a report released yesterday, Sage found reopening fully on June 21 risked a peak that could be “double that seen in January 2021” because of the variant.

Sir Mark Walport, a member of Sage, said the race between the spread of coronavirus and the vaccination rollout had “intensified”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “I think the Prime Minister is right to be very concerned with what’s going on.

Younger people have been catching the new variant, which experts think is more transmissable

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Younger people have been catching the new variant, which experts think is more transmissableCredit: COBR

“The race between the virus and the vaccination has just intensified and there is a high degree of scientific confidence that this new variant is up to 50% more transmissible than the previous B117 variant.

“So, if you like, the knife edge on which the race sits has just sharpened.”

Vaccine hesitancy is thought to be driving the spread of the virus in areas most affected by the variant.

In parts of Blackburn and Bolton with high uptake of vaccines the average weekly Covid rate was 89 cases per 100,000 people.

CASES RISE

Other wards where around one in five are refusing the jab have seen rates of 261 cases per 100,000, The Telegraph reports.

Case rates were on average about three times higher in low vaccination areas.

Dr Helen Wall, who is leading the vaccination rollout in Bolton, said they aimed to give 4,000 jabs today.

Health minister Edward the government was acting “coolly” and “calmly”, but was “keeping everything under review”.

Dr Richard Jarvis, BMA public health medicine committee co-chairman, urged Brits to approach Monday’s next stage of lockdown easing “with the utmost caution”.

He said: “It is a real worry that when further measures lift on May 17, the majority of younger people, who are often highly socially mobile and could therefore be most at risk of a more infectious strain, are not yet vaccinated.

“Despite having the highest rates of positive tests throughout the pandemic, they will now be able to mix in larger groups in hospitality venues without many of the mitigations that have helped to push infection rates lower and lower since the start of the year.

“We are urging the public, and young people in particular, to take a cautious approach to social and physical contact, to continue practising ‘hands, face, space’ and to meet outdoors wherever possible.”

Boris Johnson hints roadmap could be delayed saying he’s ‘ruling NOTHING out’ amid Indian variant fears





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