UK ‘closest of any country in northern hemisphere to exiting Covid pandemic’

Professor David Heymann said population immunity was already high across the country.

Jane Kirby
Wednesday 12 January 2022 07:57
The expert said the UK is probably one of the countries with the highest levels of population immunity (Kieran Cleeves/PA)
The expert said the UK is probably one of the countries with the highest levels of population immunity (Kieran Cleeves/PA)

The UK is the closest of any country in the northern hemisphere to exiting the Covid-19 pandemic, an expert has said.

Professor David Heymann, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), suggested in a Chatham House online briefing that the UK was seeing the disease become endemic.

He said: “In general, now, the countries that we know best in the northern hemisphere have varying stages of the pandemic.

“And probably, in the UK, it’s the closest to any country of being out of the pandemic if it isn’t already out of the pandemic and having the disease as endemic as the other four coronaviruses.”

He said population immunity was already high, adding: “That means immunity against serious illness and death after infection if one is vaccinated, or after re-infection if one has had illness before, and that population immunity seems to be keeping the virus and its variants at bay, not causing serious illness or death in countries where population immunity is high.

“I looked at the ONS (Office for National Statistics) most recent report on population immunity and they estimated about 95% of the population in England and a little less than in other parts of the United Kingdom do have antibody to infection either from vaccination or from natural infection.

“And that antibody, as I said, is keeping the virus at bay. And it’s now functioning more like an endemic coronavirus than one that is a pandemic.”

If you look in the intensive care units, you'll see that unfortunately the majority of those people are not vaccinated

Prof David Heymann

Prof Heymann said many people who were getting seriously ill had not had previous infection and had not gained immunity from a vaccine.

“If you look in the intensive care units, you’ll see that unfortunately the majority of those people are not vaccinated,” he said.

Asked whether the Covid pandemic is over globally, Prof Heymann said that would not be declared “until all countries have completed what they need to do to make this virus more tame and to become endemic”.

He said the UK is probably one of the countries with the highest levels of population immunity.

He added: “So some are already saying that it is endemic in the United Kingdom, that the United Kingdom has succeeded in transferring risk assessment from the Government which was assessing the risk… and passing down to people who are doing their own risk assessments either by doing self-testing when they go visit elderly people or some other means of trying to prevent transmission to others.”

The leading expert said there would be resurgences of Covid in the future and more variants will arise, though it was not clear of what severity.

“We’re fortunate in that we have vaccines which can be modified very rapidly, and put into production very rapidly to deal with an escapee,” he said.

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