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How is the coronavirus vaccine rollout going?

An older woman, looking out of a window

Are we there yet?

With the UK's coronavirus vaccine rollout recently hitting a significant milestone, it's important to reaffirm the importance of patience and good sense when it comes to life after the vaccine, as Dr Elizabeth Webb reminds us.

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In the UK, 20 million people have now had their first vaccination against coronavirus. After vaccination it’s natural to assume our lives can return to how they were before the pandemic started. But is that sensible?

We now know, not just from clinical trials but also real-life data on the impact of the vaccine roll out across the UK, that the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are both highly effective.

On Monday, scientists from Public Health England (PHE) published evidence that a single dose of either vaccine reduces the chances of testing positive with coronavirus and, even among those who do test positive, reduces the chances of needing to be hospitalised. Overall, both vaccines are approximately 80% effective at preventing hospitalisation.

This means that, if 5 out of a group of people who were not vaccinated would need to be hospitalised with coronavirus, under similar circumstances only 1 would be hospitalised if they were all vaccinated. These results are extremely positive, and as this evidence comes from those who were first to be vaccinated – those aged 80 and older – it’s also wonderful to know that the vaccines work so well even among those in the oldest age groups.

As well as the effectiveness of the vaccines there is other positive news. More than 20 million people have had their first vaccination and our current lockdown is leading to falls in the numbers of infections, hospitalisations and deaths. So, if you’re one of the almost 1 in 3 UK residents who’ve been vaccinated, what comes next?

It’s tempting to return to the way we lived before the pandemic started, but it remains important you continue to follow the Government guidance as restrictions on our everyday activities are eased. It is sensible to keep the contact you have with others outdoors where possible, and open windows, socially distance and wear a mask when this isn’t possible.

4 reasons to remain cautious after the vaccine

  1. You will not be protected straight away. Depending on the vaccine, and perhaps other characteristics including your age, you will take 2, 3 or even 4 weeks to fully develop immunity.
  2. The vaccines are about 80% effective at preventing hospitalisation. Although your vaccination will substantially reduce your chances of catching coronavirus and becoming seriously unwell with it if you do, it may not offer you complete protection.
  3. There are still large numbers of people with coronavirus in our communities. Recent estimates suggest about 1 person in every 145 in England has coronavirus.
  4. Vaccinations will reduce transmission, but they do not block it completely. It is possible to catch coronavirus after vaccination but have no symptoms, so be able to pass it on unknowingly to someone else.

The rules and the roadmap

The Government has set out their roadmap to the easing of coronavirus restrictions and intend that restrictions on social contacts should be removed this summer.

The progress through the stages of the roadmap is conditional on four tests, as follows:

  1. Continued success of the vaccination rollout. Good progress is being made, with more than 9 out of 10 people aged 70 and over having had their first vaccination. People aged 60 and over are being encouraged to book their vaccination if they haven’t already done so.
  2. Vaccines are reducing hospitalisations & deaths. This week’s early evidence from PHE suggests that the vaccines will be very effective, reducing hospitalisations by about 80%.
  3. Infections don’t surge, risking hospitals being overwhelmed. While we are in lockdown numbers of infections continue to decrease, but it is possible that this could reverse as restrictions are eased. People in their 50s are not yet being invited for vaccination and this group are still at quite high risk of needing to be hospitalised if they catch coronavirus.
  4. New variants. There is some evidence that the vaccines may work less well against the South African and Brazilian variants of coronavirus, both of which are present, albeit in small numbers, in the UK. Public health measures are being used in local areas to minimise the spread of these variants and UK scientists are closely monitoring the situation, so we know how these variants are spreading and if any other variants of concern arise.
Dr Elizabeth Webb, Age UK

More articles by Dr Webb

Dr Elizabeth Webb is Head of Research at Age UK. She has an MSc in Epidemiology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a PhD in Social Epidemiology from University College London.

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Last updated: Mar 04 2021

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