Social distancing measures will have to “last longer” if people do not take the coronavirus vaccine, England’s deputy chief medical officer has warned.
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference on Wednesday, Jonathan Van-Tam said people “have to take the vaccine” if they want lockdowns to end.
“Everyone wants social distancing to come to an end — we are fed-up with it,” he said.
“Nobody wants lockdowns and to see the damage they do. But if you want that dream to come true as quickly as it can come true, then you you have to take the vaccine when it is offered to you.
“Low uptake will almost certainly make restrictions last longer.”
Van-Tam also warned of a “tidal wave” of infections if people decided to “abandon caution” too soon.
And he said he thought Covid-19 was “going to be with humankind forever”.
“I don’t think we are going to eradicate coronavirus ever,” he said. “I think we may get to a point where coronavirus becomes a seasonal problem.”
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said the bulk of vaccinations will take place in “January through to March or April for the at-risk population”.
And he said delivery of the vaccine to care homes cannot happen yet despite residents being clinically the top priority for a jab.
Despite warning against over-optimism, Boris Johnson told the press conference it was now “sure and certain” that life could start returning to normal in 2021.
But the prime minister acknowledged there were “immense logistical challenges” in distributing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
“It will inevitably take some months before all the most vulnerable are protected – long, cold months,” he said.
“So it’s all the more vital that as we celebrate this scientific achievement we are not carried away with over-optimism or fall into the naive belief that the struggle is over.”
Here is the new priority list:
- Older adults resident in a care home and care home workers
- All those 80 years of age and over. Front line health and social care workers
- All those 75 years of age and over
- All those 70 years of age and over
- All those 65 years of age and over
- All Individuals aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions.
- All those 60 years of age and over
- All those 55 years of age and over
- All those 50 years of age and over
- The rest of the population (priority to be determined)
The UK government has ordered 40m doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, enough to vaccinate 20m people with two doses, given 21 days apart.
But there are huge logistical challenges behind delivering a vaccine which needs to be stored between minus 70C and minus 80C.
Pfizer’s manufacturing site in Puurs, Belgium, is being used for European supply.
The vaccine will be delivered by planes – Pfizer has already ruled out ocean transport due to timings.
The company has created special suit-cased size containers fitted with temperature and GPS trackers to ship the vaccine.
Once the supply arrives in the UK it will undergo quality checks to ensure it has been shipped safely.
It will then be unloaded and moved to storage freezers where it will undergo a further temperature check.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said on Wednesday morning that 50 hospitals across the country are already set up and waiting to receive the vaccine.