Leading scientists on Wednesday called on the government to be guided by data, not dates, ahead of Boris Johnson’s announcement to lift restrictions on locking the coronavirus next week.
Professor Angela McLean, chief scientific adviser at the Department of Defense, told lawmakers in the Science and Technology Committee that the introduction of the vaccine was cause for optimism, but added that it was important to have a cautious approach to removing the measures.
“We use data, not dates,” she said. “It’s important to watch what’s happening in the real world and make an effort to properly judge in real time whether we’re going too fast or need to pause before we take the next step.”
The prime minister said that he would publish a “road map” for lifting the restrictions on February 22, and that the schools would be the first to open on March 8.
Speaking during a visit to a vaccination center in South Wales on Wednesday, Johnson stressed that the government would adopt a “prudent” approach to removing coronavirus measures.
“On Monday, we will present what we can about the future path and it will be based on a careful and prudent approach to getting out of the blockade in such a way that it is irreversible,” he said. “From now on, we want to go in one direction, based on the amazing introduction of vaccination that you see in Cwmbran.”
Mark Woolhouse, a professor at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modeling Group, told lawmakers that the introduction of the vaccine “exceeded expectations.”
“The actual performance of the vaccine, the potential to block transmission are key, but of course the real ability to protect against death and disease and keep people out of the hospital. . . all those numbers look really good, ”he said.
He also argued that the government may be able to lift the restrictions earlier than planned, adding: “If you are guided by data, not dates, you should now look at early unlocking because the data is so good.”
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, also gave a positive assessment of the vaccine’s effect on Wednesday, telling the Scottish Parliament: “It explicitly suggests that the vaccine program has hopes of having an effect in reducing the number of virus deaths.”
Back in London, however, McLean warned members of the scientific committee that information on the impact of vaccines on transmission is still unclear. “What we still don’t know about vaccines is the question of how contagious you are if you catch Covid even if you are vaccinated,” she said.
She also noted that some in the scientific community are concerned that even with vaccines, herd immunity may not be achieved and warned of the risk of spreading additional waves among the unvaccinated.
“The wave among the unvaccinated could be very, very bad,” she said. “And just as we all know that there are certain groups in society that are particularly hesitant about whether to get the vaccine, and some of those groups are groups that we know suffer from a disproportionately severe disease when they are infected.
“I think we can say very clearly that you don’t unlock too fast, because if you unlock a lot, while most of the most vulnerable are still unvaccinated, truly – we risk disaster.”
Vaccine introduction schedule
December 8, 2020
Margaret Keenan, 90, becomes the first person in the world to receive the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine. The vaccine was approved by the British drug regulator, MHRA, on December 2.
January 4, 2021
Brian Pinker, 82, becomes the first person to receive the Oxford / AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. The UK government has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine, which can be stored at normal refrigerated temperatures. The MHRA approved the vaccine for use in the UK on December 30th.
January 4, 2021
Boris Johnson outlines the government’s plan to provide vaccination to about 14.6 million people in four main priority groups identified by the Joint Vaccination and Immunization Committee – including all people over the age of 70, plus social workers and clinically extremely vulnerable.
February 1, 2021
The NHS announces that it has offered the vaccine to all eligible nursing homes across England.
February 3, 2021
The UK has crossed the milestone of 10 million vaccinations applied.
February 12, 2021
The Welsh government announces that it has offered the first doses of the vaccine for the four main priority groups as indicated by the JCVI.
February 14, 2021
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces that the UK has vaccinated just over 15 million people, while all individuals from the four main priority groups in England are now being offered the first doses of the vaccine.
February 15, 2021
The NHS begins vaccinating people between the ages of 65 and 69 and the clinically vulnerable.