COVID-19: The impact vaccinating everyone over 70 may have – and what happens when over 50s get the jab too

With more than 10 million people now receiving their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, what could the impact on the NHS be?

We got an insight into this during Wednesday’s Downing Street briefing – when Professor Chris Whitty shared a chart that illustrates how Britons from different age groups are affected by COVID-19.

Here’s what it means – and how what the prime minister called the UK’s “colossal” vaccine rollout could affect the current numbers.

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What does the chart show?

The data breaks down the UK’s population into five-year intervals and shows the outcome of hospital patients with COVID-19 – 28 days after they were admitted. Figures for men are on the left, and figures for women are on the right.

The dark blue bar shows the number of people who have died, while the lighter blue bar indicates how many people are still receiving treatment. Finally, the grey bar illustrates how many have been discharged.

Red lines also separate nine vaccine priority groups into two phases. Over 70s and those who care for them are first – “Captain Sir Tom’s group” – as Prof Whitty put it. It is hoped everyone in this group will have been offered a jab by mid-February. Attention will then turn to over 50s and the clinically vulnerable.

What will happen when everyone over 70 is vaccinated?

According to Professor Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, 83% of all people who have died of COVID are over 70.

He said that the number of coronavirus fatalities should “significantly reduce” once everyone in the first priority groups have been vaccinated.

However, he explained that this might not have a substantial impact on the number of people who end up in hospital, even though they may be people who will recover.

The aim is to complete offering vaccines to all those in the first priority groups by 15 February, after which “we would expect a situation where we can stop a very high proportion of the deaths but a rather smaller proportion of the pressure on the NHS – those very large numbers in hospital”.

What will happen when everyone over 50 is vaccinated?

Professor Whitty’s data suggests that just 54% of people who are going into hospital with COVID-19 are over the age of 70.

This means that the second wave of jabs, for people over 50 and the clinically vulnerable, will be crucial in order to reduce pressure on the NHS.

“We have further in-roads into reducing death and also significantly reduce the pressure on the NHS,” the professor said.

He added: “If we then vaccinate all the way down to people over 50 and those who have actually got pre-existing health conditions, you then get through virtually all the people who have a high chance of dying.”

Including the over-50s covers 98% of those who die from coronavirus – and about 80% of all those who go into hospital.

What about younger age groups?

As the chart shows, the number of hospitalisations is much lower among the country’s young – and the number of children who go into hospital is “very small compared with adults”.

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