Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, said there was a need to speed up booster shots and vaccination for adolescents, who he said should receive two doses of a vaccine to block infection and the transmission.
It came as NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said to ‘get the most out of the semester’ the national booking service will be open to young people aged 12 to 15 to book their vaccines at the centers. existing vaccination programs.
UK Covid-19 cases are at their highest for nearly three months, with the seven-day average standing at 44,145 cases per day.
Hospital admissions and deaths are also slowly increasing, although vaccines still work well overall in preventing serious illness.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Professor Ferguson, whose data was instrumental in the UK’s March 2020 lockdown, said the UK had more cases of Covid than it did. other countries for a number of reasons.
“First of all, we have lower functional immunity in our population than most other Western European countries and that’s for two reasons,” he said.
“In part, we’ve been very successful in rolling out the vaccination early and we know that immunity gradually wanes over time after receiving that second dose, so our earliness means we’re a bit more vulnerable.
“Second, we relied more on the AstraZeneca vaccine and, while it protects very well against the very serious consequences of Covid, it protects slightly less well than Pfizer against infection and transmission, especially against the Delta variant. .
“And finally, we are just behind a few other countries, not dramatically, but we are no longer in the first rank of European countries in terms of overall immunization coverage, especially in immunizing adolescents.
“The overall coverage rates here are considerably lower, for example, than in Spain, Portugal and Denmark. “
When asked if the Covid booster shots are the answer to diminished immunity, Professor Ferguson: “Absolutely, and there is data coming in now that is not entirely clear, but good data from Israel which shows that if you had the third booster dose of the vaccine then you get very high loads, better than even after the second dose.
“And so I think it’s essential that we speed up the recall program.
“The other thing is that infection rates are currently the highest among adolescents and most other European countries are ahead of us in vaccinating adolescents and giving them two doses, not just one.
“Two doses are really needed to block the infection and prevent transmission, so I think that’s the other problem, keep pushing, increase the coverage rates in the teens who are driving a lot of this infection. “
The Sage member said the doubling time for hospital admissions is currently around five weeks, “so I think we have to (be) on the case, and we have to prioritize the vaccination program ( reminder), but we are not in the same position as last year.
He added, “I don’t think that’s a reason to panic right now but I would definitely like to see the booster doses of the vaccination sped up, the adolescent vaccination sped up. “
Professor Ferguson was also asked if future restrictions and lockdowns might be needed.
He said the government “was very clear that they wanted to move away from social distancing measures, but it should be noted, clearly, that most Western European countries have kept more measures in place. warrants, vaccination warrants, and mask-wearing warrants tend to have lowercase numbers and certainly not case numbers increasing as fast as we have. But at the end of the day, this is a political decision for the government to make. “
The expert said that “people need to be aware that we currently have higher levels of infection in the community than we almost never had during the pandemic,” amid suggestions that people have just come from. get back to normal.
“No one likes to have their freedoms restricted by measures, but it is prudent to be careful in daily interactions – wearing masks certainly helps that, it reminds people that we are not yet completely out of the woods,” did he declare.
When asked if the country should be worried about another lockdown, Professor Ferguson said it was’ very unlikely that we would see anything like the levels of deaths we saw last year “.
He added: “As winter approaches, there may be a Plan B that needs to be implemented, which involves some step backwards, but I doubt we ever get close to the lockdown in which we. were in January of this year. ”
Elsewhere, Sir David King, who was the government’s chief scientific adviser from 2000 to 2007, said the pace of the Covid booster deployment was going “extremely slowly”.
According to the government’s coronavirus scorecard, 2.3 million people in England aged 80 and over had received both doses of the vaccine as of April 17 – therefore were eligible for a booster dose on October 17.
NHS England figures show that 1.3 million people in England in this age group (around half) had received a booster dose as of October 17.
Additionally, 31% of eligible 75-79 year olds and 15% of 70-74 year olds have had a booster so far.
According to calculations by actuary John Roberts of the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group, which tracked the vaccine’s deployment, 8.5 million people in England are now eligible for a booster if they wish.
He said there are 4.8 million who received their second dose at least six months ago, but have yet to receive a booster.
NHS England said 7.9 million people in England are eligible for a booster, of which 5.5 million have received invitations.
Some 1.9 million people will be invited this week as they have become eligible in recent days, he added.
That leaves around 500,000, which includes nursing home residents who are not invited through the national reservation system.
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘Almost four million people have already received their booster in just four weeks since the start of the deployment – more than double the initial deployment rate in December. “While the NHS can only invite people for their booster six months after their second jab, millions of people are invited within days of becoming eligible and there is a lot of capacity available. The NHS message remains that when prompted you must book immediately. “
Gemma Peters, Managing Director of Blood Cancer UK, said: ‘We know that many people with blood cancer have still not been invited for the third dose, despite the deadline for the NHS to offer the third. dose to immunocompromised who died last week.
“Since people with blood cancer are more vulnerable to Covid and are less likely to be protected by vaccines, this has caused tremendous anxiety and may well lead to unnecessary deaths. “