The UK’s Covid vaccine uptake rate has slowed down to a snail’s pace in the past two months.
While 88% of the population has received at least one vaccine jab according to the government’s figures from September 4, this is only a slight increase from July 1, when 82% had received a single dose.
So what does this mean for the UK’s vaccine rollout?
1. Who is not getting vaccinated?
While data shows the 16-17 year olds are currently the least vaccinated group, this age bracket was only advised to get the jab by the government in August.
The onus actually lies with a slightly older age group.
Of those aged 18-24, 65% have received their first dose, while for those aged 25-29, 63% have had one jab and 68% of 30-39-year-olds.
This means the overall vaccination rate among 18-40-year-olds has barely changed since July – approximately a third of individuals in this age bracket have not received their first dose.
The vaccination rates among those aged 50 and up have also flatlined, but the uptake among these individuals for their first jab has been above 80% for some months. The 40-49-year-old bracket is only just behind as well, with 79% of the group having received at least one dose.
2. Could booster jabs help bridge the unvaccinated gap?
Those who are already fully vaccinated but who have weakened immune systems may end up getting a third jab this autumn, according to the advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation.
The experts have suggested another jab for those over-50s and other vulnerable individuals, as vaccine efficacy will start to fade.
At the moment, 500,000 people with severely compromised immune systems – aged 12 and upwards – are expected to be offered a third dose in a bid to improve protection, but this is not considered a booster jab. The JCVI maintain it is actually just part of the primary vaccination schedule for the most vulnerable in the UK.
Booster jabs – a third dose for those with healthy immune systems – are still under discussion with the JCVI, as more data is needed before a decision is made. The interim advice is to start giving out a third dose to more than 30 million people.
But, the World Health Organisation has actually called for a legal pause on boosters until the end of September at the very least in favour of prioritising vaccines for those people who are yet to receive a single dose.
As Laith Jamal Abu-Raddad, an infectious disease epidemiologist, told Nature magazine: “Wasting resources on boosters for those who are already protected against severe disease does not really make too much sense.
“Down the line, probably, we would need to think of it. But really, we don’t have strong arguments for it right now.”
It’s not known if the government will put more weight behind booster jabs if such a high proportion of 18-40-year-olds remain unvaccinated.
3. Are there now enough antibodies in circulation to reduce infection rates?
The Office for National Statistics found in August that approximately 94% of adults in the UK have coronavirus antibodies. This is either from receiving the vaccines or from having a previous Covid infection.
However, more data is needed before we can understand how much protection this offers us from infection.
The life-span of our Covid antibodies also remains unclear, meaning the government is not sure how long our bodies fight off infection after testing positive for the virus.
4. What does this mean for vaccine passports?
Vaccine passports are set to be required at nightclubs and other indoor venues in England from the end of September.
However, with vaccine uptake rates trailing off, there’s a chance Downing Street could consider rolling them out for a range of other activities to encourage the entire population to get vaccinated.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, the vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi explained the decision to make the passports mandatory for large venues. He said: “One thing that we have learnt is that in large gatherings of people, especially indoors, the virus tends to spike and spread.”
But the Night Time Industries Association said passports could “cripple the industry” and lead to discrimination cases if made mandatory in a range of settings across the country.
Vaccine passports have also divided the public, because of the technical, ethical and legal questions about how the system would even work, whether privacy would be maintained, and if fraud would become a serious issue.
5. Will slowing vaccination rates increase the likelihood of vaccinating 12-15 year olds?
The JCVI has so far advised against rolling out vaccinations to those aged 12 to 15, on the basis that the committee does not have enough data on the issue. Yet it could be overruled, as many argue the benefits of giving vaccines to children – especially in protecting other age groups – outweigh the risks.
While the risk of children becoming seriously ill from Covid is very low, teenagers in particular are said to spread the virus quite easily as they mix in large grounds at school.
Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the Nervtag group that advises Downing Street on viral dangers, told BBC Breakfast: “We do know the virus is circulating very widely amongst this age group, and that if we’re going to be able to get the rates down and also prevent further surges of infection perhaps later in the winter, then this is the group that needs to become immune.”
This could become a tactic the government turn to in an effort to overcome vaccine hesitancy among adult generations.