Boris Johnson’s ‘roadmap to freedom’ was back on track last night after scientists dismissed fears that Covid vaccinations might be ineffective against the new Indian variant.
Experts at the Government’s world-renowned Porton Down research centre have concluded that the jabs work to stop ‘infection, transmission and hospitalisation’ in the same way as they do with the dominant Kent strain.
In an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said that the scientists’ analysis found the variant caused only a minimal reduction in vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease, and was expected to provide high levels of protection against hospitalisation and death.
Meanwhile, Britain is today expected to pass the landmark figure of 60 million first and second doses administered.
Experts at the Government’s world-renowned Porton Down research centre have concluded that jabs work effectively against the Indian variant, handing a boost to Boris Johnson’s (seen on HMS Queen Elizabeth on May 21) reopening programme
1.3m sign up for NHS vaccine app
By Brendan Carlin for Mail On Sunday
More than a million extra people have signed up to the NHS app since Covid vaccine status was added just two weeks ago.
The move will be seen as a vote of confidence in using the app to prove vaccination, despite critics fearing that it amounts to an ID card in disguise.
Since May 7, users of the NHS app – which could already be used to book appointments and get repeat prescriptions – have been able to see their Covid-19 status. It can display a barcode showing they have been vaccinated if needed for travel.
Department of Health officials said it was one of the world’s first ‘internationally compliant systems to demonstrate vaccine status’, and had been designed in line with World Health Organisation guidance.
They added that 1.3 million extra people had signed up for the app since the Covid status was introduced, bringing the total number to over 4.8 million.
As of last night, 37.7 million people, or 71.6 per cent of all UK adults, had received their first jab and 22.1 million, or 41.9 per cent, had received both.
The good news on vaccines combating the Indian variant will boost expectations that Mr Johnson will be able to announce the end of social distancing as hoped on ‘freedom day’, June 21.
Concerns have also been allayed that the Indian strain could be 50 per cent more transmissible than the Kent one, with experts now believing it to be closer to a ‘manageable’ 20 or 30 per cent.
The scientists concluded that the Pfizer vaccine was 88 per cent effective against the Indian variant in preventing symptomatic disease after two doses, compared with 93 per cent against the Kent variant.
AstraZeneca is 60 per cent effective, compared with 66 per cent against the Kent variant.
Experts said the difference between the two jabs could be down to the fact that the rollout of second doses of AstraZeneca has been later than that for Pfizer, and it takes longer to reach maximum effectiveness.
The data also showed the importance of having two doses, as both vaccines were only 33 per cent effective against the Indian variant three weeks after just the first jab, compared with 50 per cent protection against the Kent variant.
Mr Zahawi said: ‘The vaccines offer protections against the dominant Kent variant.
What Porton Down are now saying is that the double dose does the same thing against the Indian variant.
‘The important message is to get your second vaccine, because if we can get people double-vaccinated rapidly then this is going to be manageable’.
More than 50million Covid-19 vaccination doses have now been given in England, latest figures show (pictured: James Forster from Hexham receives the Pfizer vaccine on May 13)
Britain’s death toll stands at six today, a decrease of one on the seven recorded this day last week. It comes as a new ‘triple mutant’ Covid variant with a ‘strange combination’ of genes is probed by virologists in Yorkshire
Today’s case total of 2,694 – 667 more than the 2,027 recorded last Saturday – comes as England passes its 50million coronavirus jabs milestone
In other developments yesterday:
- The daily number of deaths attributed to Covid fell to six, a drop of 43 per cent over the past week, while hospital admissions were down 7 per cent to 122;
- More than 1.3 million extra people were revealed have signed up to the NHS app since it was updated on May 7 to show the user’s vaccination status;
- Former No 10 adviser Dominic Cummings – who will give evidence on the handling of the pandemic to MPs on Wednesday – accused the Government of causing unnecessary deaths by embarking on a policy of ‘herd immunity’ and then trying to deny it.
- He also claimed lockdowns could have been avoided ‘if we’d had competent people in charge’;
- It was revealed that Mr Johnson fought off advisers’ calls to delay relaxing the restrictions on indoor hospitality last Monday, especially in areas of North-West England hit hardest by the Indian variant;
- The Scottish Government said it was working to fix a security flaw which could allow people to edit their vaccination status certificates using popular software.
Last night, in response to the news about the vaccines’ effectiveness, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘This new evidence is groundbreaking – and proves just how valuable our vaccination programme is in protecting the people we love.
We can now be confident that over 20 million people – more than one in three – have significant protection against this new variant, and that number is growing by the hundreds of thousands every day as more and more people get that vital second dose.
‘I want to thank the scientists and clinicians who have been working around the clock to produce this research.
‘It’s clear how important the second dose is to secure the strongest possible protection against Covid-19 and its variants – and I urge everyone to book in their jab when offered.’
JONATHAN SUMPTION: Find your backbone, Boris, and free us from the joyless clipboard bullies on June 21
The fuss about whether the Government should stick to its roadmap has brought some interesting creatures to the fore. We have seen them before, but never so clearly in their true plumage.
There is a powerful body of medical opinion which would like to see a new relationship between the State and the citizen.
It consists of public health professionals interested only in public health and blind to most things that make good health worth having.
The decision about June 21 will be a major test of the Prime Minister’s backbone, writes Jonathan Sumption
They seem indifferent to mass unemployment, recession and educational disaster. They care not a fig for basic social needs and daily human pleasures.
Hence the present fuss about the Indian variant.
For years, these people have been frustrated by the fact that not everyone shares their priorities or suffers their special brand of tunnel vision.
Why do so many of us not feel a thing with the first AZ jab?
By Jonathan Bucks for the Mail On Sunday
When Boris Johnson received his first dose of the AstraZeneca jab in March, he proudly declared that he ‘didn’t feel a thing’ – and it seems others had a similar experience.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many people barely notice their first jab being administered, but are much more aware of the needle going in for their second dose.
The phenomenon is unrelated to side effects, which have been forensically monitored, and has not been properly studied.
But one man in his 40s from Epping, Essex, said: ‘I usually turn my head away when I have an injection because I don’t like seeing the needle go in, but when I had my first AstraZeneca jab I had to look at my arm since I hadn’t felt a thing. It was different for the second dose when I felt a little scratch, like any other injection.
‘A few friends have mentioned the same happened to them. It’s all rather mysterious.’
A 58-year-old man from Brighton added: ‘I was still sitting, waiting for my first jab when I was told it had been done and I could go. I hadn’t felt even the tiniest scratch. The second time around, I was definitely aware of the needle going in, although it didn’t hurt.
‘Almost everyone I know has said the same thing.
‘On the other hand, I haven’t had any side effects since the second vaccine – after feeling headachey and under the weather for three days after the first.’
Similar experiences have been reported on social media. ‘Second vaccine update – no real side effects other than the painful arm. It is a LOT more painful than jab one,’ said one. ‘Just got my second dose of vaccine, it was a little bit more painful than first one,’ wrote another. And a third said of her second jab: ‘I felt the actual needle more. She had to give it a good shove.’
According to research published in medical journal The Lancet last month, 19 per cent of people receiving their first AZ jab recorded ‘pain’ as a local side effect at the injection site, compared to 29 per cent and 34 per cent for the first and second doses of Pfizer respectively. But at the time of the study, not enough people had received the second AZ jab to be included.
Of the more serious after-effects – most commonly headaches and flu-like symptoms – experts believe the second dose may pack more of a punch because the body responds more robustly to the vaccine after recognising it from the first jab.
They have lectured us about being too fat, too thin, not taking enough exercise, or too fond of drink, sugar, tobacco or sunshine for our own good.
We have listened but continued to make our own decisions, not always to their liking.
With Covid-19, these health fascists have come into their own. They have had a chance to strut across the stage, giving us orders rather than just advice. They have welcomed a world in which experts can compel us to do what they regard as good for us.
But their vision of what is good for us is a wretched thing: a narrow, colourless and impoverished vision with little room for human fellowship, culture or any of the collective activities that give value to our lives.
They never ask themselves whether the risk of living with Covid may be better than the certainty of distress, impoverishment and destruction provoked by their plan for suppressing it.
They must suppress risk, even if it means suppressing life itself.
Every day, some professor is wheeled out on radio or TV to say we should have even less liberty, in order to serve their joyless agenda.
They produce terrifying statistical models which are no more meaningful than the assumptions that they have built into them.
They give us bossy five-part instructions on how to hug people (not too often, outdoors only, make it quick, don’t look people in the face, then get tested). They tell us that Ministers’ latest piece of legislative bullying should have been introduced earlier or be kept in place for longer.
The political version of this mentality is called the ‘precautionary principle’. The precautionary principle is designed to protect politicians from being criticised in hindsight. It involves acting without evidence just in case it later turns out to be a good idea.
Sometimes the precautionary principle may be sound policy. But depriving people of their liberty simply because the government doesn’t know whether it is necessary should surely have no place in a civilised society.
India is a big country with poor public health facilities and a slow vaccination rollout. Its 1.4 billion population is 20 times bigger than ours. Big absolute numbers of sick and dying there tell us very little.
Adjusted for population size, the impact of the Indian variant is small even in India.
According to Johns Hopkins University, India’s death toll peaked at 0.3 Covid deaths per 100,000 people and is now flatlining. This is far below the UK peak of 1.85 in late January.
Whereas India has administered 13 vaccine doses per 100 residents, Britain has administered 86, the highest figure in the world except for Israel and some small islands.
Everyone in Britain over 40 or in vulnerable health categories has been vaccinated at least once, except for refuseniks.
The remaining unvaccinated groups are at minuscule risk of death or serious illness. For people aged 20-50, the Infection Fatality Rate (the proportion of infected people who die) is estimated to be somewhere between 0.03 and 0.05 per cent.
Although the Indian variant is reported to be more infectious than the currently dominant variants, it is no more mortal and there is no evidence that it evades the vaccines. Confirmed cases have surged in Bolton, but the number of deaths and hospitalisations there is tiny.
The situation may change, but the latest NHS figures show that in the week to May 19, just two people died in Bolton within 28 days of a positive test. This, says the website portentously, is 100 per cent up on the week before. But with figures as small as these, such percentages are meaningless.
There is a powerful body of medical opinion which would like to see a new relationship between the State and the citizen. It consists of public health professionals interested only in public health and blind to most things that make good health worth having
As I write this, the Bolton NHS Trust reports 23 people in hospital with Covid, of whom three are in critical care.
We need to bring some sense of proportion to this issue.
Daily deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test are currently in single figures across the UK and falling.
Over the past 15 months, dementia and Alzheimer’s have killed many more people than Covid-19. About 1,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every day, many of whom will die. In a normal year, more than 10,000 people a week die of something.
One point stands out from all of this. We have repeatedly been told that vaccination is the way out of the Government’s restrictions on our lives. If in the UK, with one of the most successful vaccination programmes in the world, Ministers’ roadmap can be pushed off course by the India variant, against which vaccines are just as effective, then there is no hope for us.
The logic of scientists who want to keep the current controls in place is that they must stay in place for ever. This is because viruses mutate all the time.
Some variants will be more infectious than others. There is nothing we can do about that.
By the time a new variant is identified and sequenced and its impact analysed, it is usually too late to stop it spreading.
Border controls are useless against domestically generated variants like the Kent one.
Quarantine can retard the spread of imported variants, but not for long.
The Kent variant went all the way round Europe and America in no time. The World Health Organisation reckons that the India variant is already present in at least 50 countries, including many with tough border controls.
That persistent bandwagon-jumper Sir Keir Starmer (pictured) accused Boris Johnson of muddled messaging, because the PM was lifting the restrictions on holidays in ‘amber list’ countries at the same time as advising people not to go to them
The moral is that we either learn to live with variants or we say goodbye for good to basic freedoms.
There was a revealing exchange last week at Prime Minister’s Questions.
That persistent bandwagon-jumper Sir Keir Starmer accused Boris Johnson of muddled messaging, because the PM was lifting the restrictions on holidays in ‘amber list’ countries at the same time as advising people not to go to them.
The Government’s insistence on a lot of expensive testing is unfairly stopping families going abroad on holiday. But there is nothing muddled or irrational about giving people advice but leaving them to make their own decision.
Leaving people to make their own decisions is something the Government should have done months ago. It should be doing more of it now. Sir Keir seems to think that what government disapproves of should be banned by law. Is that really the sort of country he wants to live in?
The final stage of the roadmap is due on June 21. Many people are counting on that happening. They are fed up with being told how to live their lives. They want an end to all this control freakery.
The decision about June 21 will be a major test of the Prime Minister’s backbone. Will he stand up to the public health bullies and clipboard-waving modellers who will not look at the whole issue but only at their own little corner of it?
Or is he just another frightened politician running away from risk in case he has to carry the can?