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More than 90% of over-75s in the UK have taken up the chance of a first coronavirus vaccination, Matt Hancock has announced, as Britons were told they might need a third “booster” jab in the autumn to fully protect against new variants.
At a Downing Street press conference the health secretary and Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, sought to offer reassurance about the spread of the South African variant of coronavirus.
Announcing the figures on vaccine take-up, Hancock said that for older residents of eligible care homes this was 93%; for those aged 80-plus it was 91%; and 95% for people aged 75 to 79. This was, he said, “significantly better than we hoped for”. The modelled figure for overall take-up was about 75%.
The take-up for people aged 70-74, the last of the first target groups, is about 75%, with Hancock reiterating that people in that demographic who have not yet been alerted about an appointment should contact the NHS.
“We are turning a corner in our battle against coronavirus, the vaccine rollout is going well, and if you are aged 70 or over and haven’t been contacted yet please get in touch now,” Hancock said.
The arrival in the UK of the South African variant has provoked alarm, with initial studies showing that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, one of those being used widely in the UK, might offer only limited protection against minor or moderate illness with the variant, with an impact on transmissibility.
But with just 147 cases located in the UK, and none in the past two days, Van-Tam said the variant involved “very small numbers” so far. The South African variant did not seem to have a distinct transmission advantage over the variant now dominant in the UK, that first seen in Kent, he added.
“Because of that, there is no reason to think the South African variant will catch up or overtake our current virus in the next few months. That’s a really important point,” Van-Tam said.
He was also upbeat about efforts by vaccine manufacturers to tweak vaccines to better deal with the South African variant. “Taken as a package, they do give me confidence that there is still likely to be a substantial effect of the current vaccines in terms of reducing serious illness, even if infections are not as well prevented,” he said.
It was probably too late, Van-Tam added, for vaccines to be changed enough in time for a second dose to fully combat the South African variant, and so “an autumn booster, if required, is very much on our radar”.
But Van-Tam was notably cautious in terms of how quickly lockdown could be relaxed, saying he could not even guarantee people could have multi-household summer holidays within the UK.
He said: “The more elaborate your plans are for summer holidays, in terms of crossing borders, in terms of household mixing, given where we are now, I think you have to say, the more you’re steeping into making guesses about the unknown at this point.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: More than 90% of over-75s in UK have had first Covid jab | Coronavirus