Most Vulnerable May Need Covid Protection "Forever", Former Vaccines Leader Says
Dame Kate Bingham said the most vulnerable in society will probably have to be vaccinated against Covid-19 every year (Alamy)
The most vulnerable in society may need to be "protected forever” with annual Covid vaccination, according to the former chair of the UK’s vaccine taskforce.
Dame Kate Bingham told a science and technology committee hearing on Tuesday she believed the virus is likely to persist indefinitely, and that steps must be taken to look after those most at risk.
She told MPs the "most vulnerable will need to be vaccinated more regularly, maybe yearly now".
Bingham said this was likely to include all adults over 50, and those under 50 with severe underlying conditions, as well as any additional groups recommend by the JCVI [joint committee on vaccination and immunisation].
"Initially it is going to have to be about how do we keep those high-risk groups protected forever," she added.
Bingham warned that the "virus is ahead of us" as the new highly transmissible Omicron variant spreads through the country.
Yesterday the health secretary Sajid Javid said that while there are now 4,713 confirmed cases of Omicron, the UK Health Security Agency estimates the true number of people currently being infected each day is around 200,000 when those awaiting test results and unreported cases are taken into account.
Bingham emphasised the importance of evolving the vaccine programme as new variants such as Omicron emerge in order to "stay ahead of the curve", noting that we could not rely solely on vaccines developed against the original strain of Covid-19.
"If that means three doses, then that is what we need to do now, but that again is not adequate going forward," she said.
The former vaccines leader said the government needs to get out in front of Omicron and other mutations by developing new versions of jabs to tackle different strains within 100 days.
She also said doses would need to become cheaper to administer to make sure countries around the world can afford to keep immunising their populations.
"We can't be in a position where we have to go through this monumental logistics challenge of actually getting vaccines into arms," she told the cross-party committee of MPs.
"How do we improve the format of these vaccines so that they are much easier and more cheap to deploy whether that is patches, pills or sprays?"
Also appearing on front of the committee was Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for the UK Health Security Agency, who said the growth rate for Omicron seems to be "shortening rather than lengthening”.
She added: "We are concerned with the large volume of individuals who are being infected every day in the population that we are going to have a very difficult four weeks ahead with cases in the community which will, of course, cause individuals to stay off work and school, and then those cases to transfer into admissions to hospital.”
Dr Hopkins told MPs people should take a lateral flow test before they socialise, as they pick up both asymptomatic as well as symptomatic infection.
"They've been used very effectively now for almost one year in the UK population,” she said.
"What we know is that overall it will detect about 50% of cases compared to PCR, but it will detect about 80% or even more than that of people who have high amounts of virus and therefore are at the highest risk of transmitting to others."
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