Vaccines 'almost certainly less effective' at reducing spread of India variant

Covid vaccines are ‘almost certainly less effective’ at reducing the transmission of the Indian variant, a leading expert has said.

Professor Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said vaccines may also offer less protection against mild disease but stressed they don’t think they’re less effective against severe illness.

Speaking to the BBC, he defended the approach of bringing forward second jabs rather than speeding up the rollout to younger people.

Some local leaders, including the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, have called for surge vaccinations to take place in areas where the variant is spreading rapidly.

But instead Boris Johnson announced yesterday that the over 50s and the clinically vulnerable will have their second jabs after eight weeks instead of 12.

Professor Harden said targeting more vulnerable people with full immunity is a ‘better strategy’.

‘The reason we think this is if we immunise 18-29 year olds, for instance, in these areas we’ll be taking vaccines from somebody else in the country.’ he said.

‘The vaccines may be less effective against transmission and immunity takes a number of weeks to develop, so it’s not a very good strategy for preventing transmission, what we want is to prevent disease.

‘From a vaccination strategy it just won’t help mass-vaccinating a number of young people at the expense of older people who haven’t been vaccinated.’

The UK’s advanced vaccination programme is the major difference between now and December, when the country last faced a deadly new wave of the virus.

But experts say the Indian variant could be 50% more transmissible than the Kent strain which caused thousands of deaths over the winter.

This could lead to 10,000 daily hospital admissions and 1,000 daily deaths by the summer.

Professor Harnden said vaccines will help in ‘dampening down’ the spread of the virus but vigilance is needed.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘I think the vaccines will help in terms of dampening down the spread of this virus but we do need to be vigilant and we just need to see what happens over the next few weeks.’

Asked about whether the total easing of lockdown should go ahead on June 21, he said decisions on easing restrictions are ‘very, very difficult’ but acknowledged people are ‘completely fed up’ with the impact on their lives.

He said: ‘I sympathise with those that are making the decision. My imperative is to make sure that as many people are vaccinated as quickly as possible.

‘I’m very grateful that I haven’t got to make that decision (about June 21) because I think it is a very difficult decision.’

The Prime Minister said yesterday he would press ahead with the easing of measures on Monday, but there were now major doubts over whether the roadmap could proceed as planned.

He’s faced criticism for not putting India on the red list of travel destinations sooner, despite fears the variant could spread to the UK.

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