“Vaccines are working,” the health secretary has announced, after new data showed the Pfizer vaccine cuts Covid transmission by up to 85 per cent and reduces the risk of death and hospitalisation by three-quarters.
In a major boost for the Prime Minister’s plans to lift lockdown restrictions, early data from Public Health England’s (PHE) first independent analysis into the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine showed it provides overwhelming protection against spreading the virus.
Data from studies in Israel earlier this month showed similar results, however PHE’s report marks the first study into the effects of the Pfizer vaccine on transmission among UK patients.
PHE’s analysis of healthcare workers under the age of 65 showed one dose of the Pfizer jab reduces the risk of catching infection by more than 70 per cent, rising to 85 per cent after a second dose.
Healthcare workers in the REACT study were tested for Covid every two weeks regardless of whether they showed symptoms. PHE said the results showed the vaccine “may also help to interrupt virus transmission, as you cannot spread the virus if you do not have infection”.
The study found that one dose of the Pfizer jab is 57 per cent effective in preventing symptomatic Covid in over-80s, with protection kicking in around three to four weeks after the first dose. That figure could rise to 85 per cent after a second dose of the Pfizer jab, PHE said.
Hospitalisation and death
One dose of the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine is also enough to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death from coronavirus by as much as three-quarters, according to PHE.
“Overall, hospitalisation and death from Covid-19 will be reduced by over 75 per cent in those who have received a dose of the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine,” the health body said in a statement.
The risk of dying among over-80s more than halved in those who had received a first dose of the Pfizer jab compared to unvaccinated participants in the study.
Research showed over-80s who developed Covid-19 infection after receiving a Pfizer vaccine were around 40 per cent less likely to be hospitalised than someone with infection who had not been vaccinated.
PHE said the “high levels of protection” also applied to the Kent coronavirus variation, which has now become the domiant strain of the virus across the UK.
Scientists had previously expressed concerns that the mutation may prove partially resistant to vaccines. Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, suggested the strain could increase the case fatality rate (CFR) by 30 per cent.
‘Vaccines are working’
The health secretary hailed the results as an early indication that the Pfizer vaccine “protects you and protects those around you”, as the Prime Minister prepares to unveil his roadmap for easing restrictions.
Boris Johnson has said he wants to see proof that vaccines are helping to drive down the daily count of cases, hospitalisations and deaths before safely reopening the country.
“This crucial report shows vaccines are working — it is extremely encouraging to see evidence that the Pfizer vaccine offers a high degree of protection against coronavirus,” said Matt Hancock.
“Vaccines save lives, and so it is vital we roll out the vaccine programme as fast as possible, and that as many people as possible take the jab,” he added. “This new evidence shows that the jab protects you, and protects those around you.”
More than 17.5m people have received their first dose of either the Pfizer/Biontech or Astrazeneca jab so far, including the top four priority groups.
Ministers have set a fresh target to offer a first dose of the vaccine to all over-50s and everyone with a critical underlying health condition by 15 April.
Over the weekend, the Prime Minister also announced plans to vaccinate all adults in the UK by 31 July, as he promised 2021 would see a return of the “Great British Summer”.
Hancock said the public should expect similar data on the effectiveness of the Astrazeneca vaccine “in due course”.
He added that there was “good evidence” that delaying the second dose of the Astrazeneca jab by 12 weeks would lead to “much higher levels of protection”.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE noted there was “strong evidence that the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine is stopping people from getting infected, while also protecting cases against hospitalisation and death”.
“We will see much more data over the coming weeks and months but we should be very encouraged by these initial findings,” she said.
However, Ramsay warned that “protection is not complete, and we don’t yet know how much these vaccines will reduce the risk of you passing Covid-19 onto others”.
“So even if you have been vaccinated, it is really important that you continue to act like you have the virus, practice good hand hygiene and stay at home,” she added.
The Prime Minister will unveil his timeline for easing lockdown restrictions in the Commons this afternoon, before a press conference to the nation at 7pm.
By the end of next month two households, or up to six people, will be able to meet outdoors for the first time this year under the Prime Minister’s new plans.
Johnson is expected to announce that “stay at home” orders will also be lifted from 29 March, alongside the reopening of local facilities such as tennis courts and football pitches.
The PM will also announce that school sports will be allowed when children return to classrooms on 8 March and all organised outdoor sport will be permitted from 29 March.
However, Johnson is not expected to announce any further dates beyond March, with ministers keen to reopen society gradually over the next few months alongside “vigilant” scrutiny of data.
Vaccines deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi said this morning that the data showed the UK’s largest ever vaccination plan was “beginning to bear fruit”.
“Public Health England have been running a couple of large-scale studies… Suffice to say the evidence looks good,” he told Sky News.