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Vaccines winning the battle against Covid, says expert

By Ella Pickover, PA Health Correspondent

The UK is not yet “on top” of the coronavirus pandemic but the Covid-19 vaccines are “winning the battle”, an expert has said.

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said the UK is making “really good progress” but urged people “not to throw it all away” and to get a booster jab when invited to do so.

The NHS has been making strides in the booster campaign and said that, in England, half of those eligible for one have taken up the offer so far.

Prof Harnden told Sky News: “It’s really important that people step forward for that booster because we are starting to see immunity waning, particularly with the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines that were given right at the start of the vaccination campaign.

“So we’re very, very keen that they step forward and have their boosters which will top up their immunity, protect them, and actually protect them from transmitted to others.”

Asked whether the UK is “on top of the virus now”, he said: “I don’t think so yet; I think we’re winning the battle in this country and I think the vaccines are winning the battle – though infection rates are really quite high at the moment, actually death rates are relatively low compared to what they were in the first and second wave.

“So we are we are making really, really good progress, but we just don’t want to sort of throw it all away now.

“We just need to do what is right – have the booster when you’re eligible and be a bit sensible during these winter months – and I think by next summer we’ll be in a much, much better place, hopefully.”

At least 6.1 million booster doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been delivered across the UK.

Information from NHS England, Public Health Scotland, Public Health Wales and the Northern Ireland Department of Health show that an estimated 5,235,928 doses had been delivered in England as of October 24, along with 511,807 in Scotland and 51,053 in Northern Ireland.

In Wales, 322,591 booster doses had been delivered as of October 21 – the latest figure available.

It means at least one in eight people in the UK who have received a first and second dose of vaccine are likely to have also received a booster.

In England, a further two million invitations are being sent out by the NHS this week as more people become eligible six months after their second jab.

Dr Nikki Kanani, deputy vaccination programme lead for the NHS in England, said: “It’s fantastic to see such enthusiasm for the NHS booster campaign as record numbers have come forward and either booked or received their vital vaccination, joining myself and millions of others who have already had our vital top-up.

“Thanks to the huge efforts of staff, half of over-50s are already protected – a remarkable achievement in such a short space of time.”

Prof Harnden said it is not yet known whether a booster will be needed each year and a lot of vaccination programmes just require three doses with no annual top-up.

“Once we’ve given people boosts, we’ll be monitoring them over the course of the next year and we’ll see what their immunity levels do,” he said.

“I mean, it’s quite possible that this virus will mutate further and become more transmissible but less virulent.

“And so that, actually, what it will give people that have been fully vaccinated with their booster is just a mild illness if they get it, which will give them some natural boost.

“The endemic state that we end up in the few years might actually be very, very good in terms of not seeing so much severe disease, but we just don’t know that yet.”

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