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Coronavirus vaccine unable to stop second wave, warns deputy chief medical officer

‘We have seen the swallow but this is not the summer’, cautious Jonathan Van-Tam says

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 09 November 2020 18:11 GMT
Coronavirus vaccine unable to stop second wave, warns Jonathan Van-Tam
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The rising hopes of a Covid-19 vaccine have come too late to stop the second wave of the virus, England’s deputy chief medical officer has warned.

“I don’t see the vaccine making any difference in the wave we’re now in,” Jonathan Van-Tam told a press conference – as he and Boris Johnson urged caution about the Pfizer announcement.

Professor Van-Tam said he was “hopeful” that the vaccine might be available by Christmas, after the company announced early data showed it was 90 per cent effective.

And he said safety data – which was “more important than vaccine effectiveness” – should available in “the next few days”.

But he told the press conference: “I'm hopeful that it may prevent future waves, but in this one we have to battle through to the end”, adding “we have seen the swallow but this is not the summer”.

Alongside him, the prime minister agreed: “There are a still a lot of hurdles that need to be overcome before we can be certain about the efficacy of this vaccine.”

He added: “I don’t want to let people run away with the idea that this development today is necessarily a home run, a slam dunk, a shot to the back of the net, yet.”

The comments laid bare the fear that euphoria about a vaccine might undermine public consent for the lockdown lasting until 2 December – and even for basic hygiene measures of mask-wearing and social distancing.

Among a blizzard of analogies, the prime minister referred to the "distant bugle of the scientific cavalry coming over the brow of the hill”, with a breakthrough.

“I can tell you that tonight that toot of the bugle is louder, but it's still some way off, we absolutely cannot rely on this news as a solution,” he said.

“The biggest mistake we could make now would be to slacken our resolve at a critical moment.”

The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine – “towards the front of the international pack”, Mr Johnson said – with 10 million available by the end of 2020.

Professor Van-Tam stressed that people would require two doses of any vaccine, given three or four weeks’ apart – and to wait a further two weeks after that for it to work.

“There will be some partial protection after a first test, one would think, but the safe space is to have two doses, wait at least 14 days,” he said.

“That is when you are going to get into the period when you are protected.”

Mr Johnson again referred to people having as normal a Christmas possible, ahead of a meeting later this week to agree common rules with the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But he stressed that would depend on compliance with the lockdown introduced last week. “This package expires on 2 December,” he insisted.


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