Oxford Covid vaccine can ease country's 'dire situation', says expert
- Credit: UEA
A newly-approved coronavirus vaccine is key to helping the UK out of a "dire situation", according to a Norwich expert.
Paul Hunter, a medical professor at the University of East Anglia (UEA), says "anything which can reduce deaths" must be welcomed.
On Wednesday, the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab became the second to be sanctioned for nationwide use, following the vaccine produced by Pfizer-BioNTech.
As Covid-19 cases continue to rise across the country, the first doses of the Oxford vaccine are due to be given on Monday.
And, while the Pfizer jab must be stored at -70C, Oxford's product can be kept in a standard fridge and is thus easier to roll out.
Scientists have, however, found its efficacy to be lower, with two standard doses offering 62pc protection.
But Professor Hunter, who researches the transmission of emerging infectious diseases, believes any news of a vaccine's approval is positive.
"Six months ago we would have jumped at a vaccine with 62pc efficacy but, with the Pfizer vaccine, the standard is higher," he said.
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“Even if we have a vaccine that is only 62pc effective, that is still going to save two thirds of lives.
“If we were not in such a dire situation, I think we would be pushing for higher protection and looking for more data to prove it can achieve that. But we are in such a bad place at the moment that anything which can reduce deaths is welcome."
With approval of a new vaccine comes a new approach from the government to the immunisation campaign.
Focus has shifted from giving two doses in a short time to instead giving as many people as possible their first doses.
Initial doses, expected to provide significant protection against the virus, will be followed by second doses within 12 weeks.
The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford jab and 40 million of the Pfizer vaccine - enough to cover the entire population according to health secretary, Matt Hancock.
Pointing to trials carried out using the Pfizer vaccine, Prof Hunter said the revised approach was an effective course of action.
He added: "In my view, the evidence for delaying the second dose of vaccine - enabling as many as people as possible to receive the first dose sooner - is clear.
"With the rapidly spreading new variant, I have no doubt this decision will save many lives. But everyone will still need a second dose eventually to ensure that the protective effects of these vaccines last."
He did, however, highlight an "elephant in the room" regarding vaccines and their potential lack of impact on transmission.
"Nobody seems to have been talking about it apart from me," said Prof Hunter. "So I was reassured to hear the WHO’s chief scientist saying it: we don’t have evidence that any vaccine can stop transmission of the virus.
"But there is part of me that doesn’t care if it doesn’t stop transmission, so long as it stops people from dying.
“That factor does mean that herd immunity doesn’t actually work. Vaccines will, to varying degrees, protect people who have received them, but there is no strong evidence they will protect people who have not.
"A vaccine will not necessarily reduce infection rates, but it will reduce symptomatic cases. My take is I don’t care if you get an infection – as long as it doesn’t make you seriously ill.”
Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday, Mr Hancock suggested the second vaccine would put the UK on a "route out of this pandemic" by spring.
While admitting there is cause for optimism, Prof Hunter said the health secretary's pledge was over the top.
"Spring is technically mid-March until mid-June, so it would not surprise me if we were in a much better place by the end of spring," he added. "I am not confident we will be at the beginning of spring.
"One of the big problems our government's response is that messages have often been overly optimistic. Then we have learned that, actually, those promises were not deliverable."