Britain’s coronavirus vaccine drive is working, with the first published real-world data today showing both jabs currently being deployed cut the risk of being hospitalised by the illness by up to 95 per cent.
Researchers examined coronavirus hospital admissions in Scotland among people who had had their first jab and compared them with those who had not yet received a dose of either vaccine.
In a ray of hope for Britain’s lockdown-easing plans, results showed the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs slashed the risk of hospital admission from Covid by up to 85 and 94 per cent, respectively, four weeks after the first dose.
Experts from the universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde, as well as Public Health Scotland, claimed the data provided ‘compelling evidence’ that both vaccines work and prevent severe illness.
Lead researcher Professor Aziz Sheikh said: ‘These results are very encouraging and have given us great reasons to be optimistic for the future. We now have national evidence – across an entire country – that vaccination provides protection against Covid-19 hospitalisations.
‘Roll-out of the first vaccine dose now needs to be accelerated globally to help overcome this terrible disease.’
The promising findings, which mirror data coming from Israel’s world-beating roll-out, come after the UK’s vaccines ministers Nadhim Zahawi today said evidence that the jabs curb transmission ‘looks good’.
He told Sky News: ‘We wouldn’t be in this place this morning to be able to say that we’re going to reopen schools on March 8… if we’re not confident that actually the vaccine programme is beginning to really bear fruit.’
Boris Johnson is set to unveil the national ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown today, with all schools reopening from March 8 but precious few other easings until Easter. The roadmap, which runs to around 60 pages, is set to include modelling supporting the government’s tentative strategy.
Mr Johnson will run the gauntlet of anger on his own benches this afternoon, as he sets four tests for continuing with any easing including no new concerns emerging about variant strains. The other criteria are the vaccine rollout going well, jabs being effective at reducing hospital admissions and deaths, and avoiding a surge in hospital cases.
Nadhim Zahawi said the Government would not be looking to ease lockdown restrictions if they weren’t confident the first dose of the vaccine had driven down hospitalisations and deaths from the virus among the over-70s
ISRAEL REOPENS ECONOMY AFTER ALMOST HALF OF POPULATION GETS COVID VACCINE
Israel has reopened its economy after almost half of its population has been vaccinated as it was revealed that Pfizer’s Covid jab stops 89.4 per cent of transmission.
The country’s world-beating vaccination programme has led to the number of hospital patients over-60 to fall drastically compared to younger people.
While shops are now open to all in Israel, the public must carry a vaccine passport if they want to visit gyms, hotels and theatres.
The innovative ‘green pass’ is issued to those who have had both doses of the Pfizer vaccine more than a week prior or recovered from Covid-19 with presumed immunity.
They will have their ‘Green Pass’ status displayed on a Health Ministry app that they must present at certain venues.
The positive steps have implications for Britain where data suggests that the roll-out of vaccines to the older age groups alongside lockdown restrictions are reducing death rates.
‘The performance of the vaccine is really good news,’ epidemiologist Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University told The Observer. ‘You never quite know how clinical trials will translate in a true mass vaccination programme.
‘But the numbers are looking very good. The vaccines protect very well against severe disease.’
The first real-world evidence of the jab roll-out in Scotland is based on data from the 1.14million doses dished out between December 8 and February 15.
Around 650,000 people in Scotland had been given the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, while almost 500,000 had received the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.
Researchers analysed hospital data over the 10-weeks – including GP records on vaccination, hospital admissions, death registrations and laboratory test results.
The team, whose results have yet to be peer-reviewed, compared the outcomes of those who had received their first jab with those who had not.
It showed that among those aged 80 and over — one of the highest risk groups — vaccination was associated with an 81 per cent reduction in hospitalisation risk in the fourth week, when the results for both vaccines were combined.
Although the leaked findings are lower than the 100 per cent efficacy shown in Oxford’s original trial, top scientists today insisted the results were encouraging.
Efficacy is always higher in controlled studies because researchers use more young and healthy people to make the trials run smoothly and quickly.
And the data is from people given just one dose of a vaccine. Data shows the jabs are more effective when a top-up is given up to 12 weeks later.
Older people — who are at the front of the queue for vaccines because they are most vulnerable — have weaker immune systems.
Dr Jim McMenamin, National Covid Incident Director at Public Health Scotland, said: ‘These results are important as we move from expectation to firm evidence of benefit from vaccines.
‘Across the Scottish population the results shown a substantial effect on reducing the risk of admission to hospital from a single dose of vaccine.
‘For anyone offered the vaccine I encourage them to get vaccinated. We are continuing our evaluation and look forward to describing the benefits that we hope will follow the second doses of these vaccines.’
Dr Josie Murray, from Public Health Scotland, added: ‘These data show real promise that the vaccines we have given out can protect us from the severe effects of Covid.
‘We must not be complacent though. We all still need to ensure we stop transmission of the virus, and the best way we can all do this is to follow public health guidance – wash your hands often, keep two metres from others, and if you develop symptoms, isolate and take a test.
‘We also all need to protect ourselves, our families and friends by taking the second dose of vaccine when it is offered.’
Mr Johnson’s plans for easing lockdown have been bolstered by the latest data whihc shows Covid-19 infection rates have continued to drop, with 9,834 more cases reported – a fall of 10 per cent on last week – while the 215 new daily deaths brought Britain’s total up to 120,580
Tories slam Boris’s four tests as he prepares to announce ALL schools will return on March 8
Boris Johnson vowed to unveil a ‘cautious’ route of lockdown today despite a Tory backlash – with all schools reopening from March 8 but precious few other easings until Easter.
The PM is set to reveal his ‘roadmap’ in a statement to the Commons this afternoon once it is rubber-stamped by Cabinet, after scientists seemingly won the battle for a slow approach regardless of the surging vaccination drive.
The first steps to freedom will prioritise getting children fully back into classrooms in a fortnight’s time, while people will also be able meet one friend or family member in the park for a coffee or a picnic from March 8.
However, the next stage of loosening will not be until March 29, when the Rule of Six will make a comeback – and be extended to allow two households to gather, enabling relatives to meet properly for the first time in months.
That date will also see the reopening of tennis courts and golf courses and the return of grassroots football.
But people will not be allowed to take holidays over the Easter weekend. And shops, hairdressers and pubs are all likely to remain closed until mid-April at the earliest, regardless of mounting fears about the economic meltdown.
The roadmap, which runs to around 60 pages, is set to include modelling supporting the government’s tentative strategy.
It will be published alongside more positive news about the effectiveness of jabs in reducing transmission, with vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi saying the evidence ‘looks good’.
But Mr Johnson will run the gauntlet of anger on his own benches this afternoon, as he sets four tests for continuing with any easing including no new concerns emerging about variant strains. The other criteria are the vaccine rollout going well, jabs being effective at reducing hospital admissions and deaths, and avoiding a surge in hospital cases.
Notably the rules do not mean that the loosening must stop if infections rise – as ministers believe they inevitably will when schools open. Instead the focus will be on serious illness that increases pressure on the NHS, with the goal of keeping the R number below one apparently downgraded.
Previous modelling has suggested that a third peak will happen when restrictions are eased, with the question whether it risks overwhelming capacity.
Professor Chris Robertson, an epidemiologist at the University of Strathclyde, said: ‘These early national results give a reason to be more optimistic about the control of the epidemic.
‘They also show the value of linked national data sets with academic research groups working closely with public health institutes.’
Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, said the study ‘provides encouraging early data on the impact of vaccination on reducing hospitalisations’.
Professor Fiona Watt, executive chair of the Medical Research Council, which helped fund the study, said: ‘The discovery of very high protection before the second dose of the vaccines is very welcome news.
‘These promising early results are a testament to the extraordinary efforts of the everyone who worked so hard to develop the vaccines and roll them out with unprecedented speed, and to these researchers who’ve analysed Scottish health data in near real-time.’
Separate Public Health England data expected to be published today is expected to show how the jabs are cutting transmission among the over-70s.
Top scientists have so far stuck to a cautious tone about vaccines, claiming they are expecting to see the roll-out reduce hospitalisations and deaths ‘any minute now’.
Some leaked data last week claimed both Pfizer and Oxford’s Covid vaccines both cut the risk of falling ill with the disease by 65 per cent after just one dose.
Other experts said last week, however, they were seeing ‘early signs’ of their impact on these key measures.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed yesterday that the first dose was reducing transmission by two-thirds. Data from Israel has also showed that one dose of Pfizer’s jab can cut transmission by up to 75 per cent.
Britain is dishing out almost 400,000 Covid vaccine doses each day, on average, as it races to inoculate the top nine priority groups who are most at risk from the virus.
Almost a third of all adults in the UK have now been vaccinated, or 17.5million.
Mr Zahawi added on BBC Breakfast today that once the over-50s are covered the Government will ‘absolutely’ follow the recommendations of its scientists in expanding the roll-out.
‘The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) are looking at that and we will absolutely follow what they recommend,’ he said.
‘The recommendation for phase one has been correct because it’s based on clinical assessment of who is most vulnerable to be hospitalised or have serious infection and sadly death in some cases.
‘So we’ll go back to the JCVI and they will make that recommendation and we will follow that recommendation.’
Reports suggest the committee will recommend the drive continues by age groups, meaning over-45s would be next in line.
The Government is confident it has the supplies to vaccinate all adults by July 31 and has pledged to offer first doses to all 32million in the top nine groups by April 15.
It comes as Mr Johnson faced growing Tory backlash today over his ‘cautious’ route out of lockdown, with schools opening on March 8 but precious few other easings until Easter.
The plan will be unveiled this afternoon after it is rubber-stamped by Cabinet – with scientists seemingly having won the battle for a slow approach despite surging vaccinations.
The first steps to freedom will prioritise getting children fully back into classrooms in a fortnight’s time, while people will also be able to meet one friend or family member in the park for a coffee or picnic from March 8.
But the next stage of loosening will not be until March 29, when the Rule of Six will make a comeback – and to be extended to allow two households to gather, enabling relatives to meet properly for the first time in months.
Tennis courts and golf courses will also be allowed to open on this date, along with the return of grassroots football.
The plan will run the gauntlet of angering the Tory benches this afternoon.
Former chief whip Mark Harper, chair of the 70-strong Tory Covid Recovery Group, said: ‘Keeping restrictions in place ”because a new variant may come along in the future” is a recipe for never unlocking. Ever.’
FIRST JAB ‘CUTS TRANSMISSION BY TWO THIRDS’, SAYS MATT HANCOCK
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was ‘right to be cautious’ with easing lockdown
Matt Hancock says the first vaccine jab reduces Covid transmission by two thirds as he revealed a third of adults have now been vaccinated.
The Health Secretary revealed that one-in-three people over 16 had now been given one of the life-saving jabs, a boost to the country ahead of Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown that will be unveiled tomorrow.
Mr Hancock confirmed this morning that every adult in the country will be offered at least one dose of a Covid vaccine by the end of July.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Hancock said: ‘As of this morning, one in three of all adults in the whole country have been vaccinated – it’s great news.
‘We are confident the vaccine works effectively against both the old strain that has been here for some time and the so-called Kent variant, which is now the main source of infection in this country.
‘It looks like the first jab reduces your impact of transmitting the disease by about two thirds but we need more evidence on that.’
The Government previously said it hoped to reach all those aged 18 and over by the autumn, but Mr Johnson aims to greatly accelerate the successful campaign.
Mr Hancock also confirmed that everyone over 50 will be offered at least a first dose by April 15, rather than by May, as previously suggested.
But he warned that the Government would take its time lifting the coronavirus lockdown, saying it was ‘right to be cautious’ with 20,000 people still in hospital.
Speaking to Times Radio today he said coronavirus restrictions will be eased with ‘weeks between the steps’, suggesting that after schools reopen on March 8 there may be few other changes before April.
Mr Hancock also said social distancing measures and the wearing of face coverings is likely to remain for a while.
Asked earlier about the speed of the lockdown lifting, he told Sky’s Ridge on Sunday: ‘It is right to be cautious, it is incredibly important. There are still almost 20,000 people in the hospital with Covid right now. Almost 20,000.
‘The vaccination programme whilst clearly going very well, will take time to be able to reach all people who have significant vulnerability, especially because we also need to get the second jab to everybody.
‘So we have got time that needs to be taken to get this right, the PM will set out the roadmap tomorrow and he will set out the full details, taking into account that we need to take a cautious but irreversible approach, that’s the goal.’