By the time many of you read this Parliament will have voted to renew parts of the Coronavirus Act for a further six months and to endorse in law the Government’s “roadmap” out of lockdown.
My opinion has been well reported by this newspaper but - for the avoidance of doubt and lest anyone seeks to play games with my words - we must be cautious, we must be careful and we absolutely must follow the data not the dates.
I welcomed the roadmap in the House of Commons when it was published last month and I welcome it still.
I do, however, remain of the view the vaccine must give us immunity from Covid while at the same time giving us permanent immunity from Covid-related lockdowns and restrictions. Otherwise what is the point? A view I predict you will increasingly hear.
As I said at Prime Ministers’ Questions last week, the NHS has done a brilliant job vaccinating the vulnerable and we’ve had one of the fastest rollouts in the world. The roadmap is a return to freedom and a reclaiming of our lives but it’s too slow in my opinion and doesn’t base itself on the data or demonstrate a belief in vaccines.
You think that’s harsh? Well, the UK’s four Chief Medical Officers say the first dose brings ‘substantial protection’ and the JCVI have said the first dose offers between 70-90 per cent efficacy; a triumph for UK scientists. A triumph some other parts of the world would do well to thank the UK for and give credit where it’s due but let’s park that.
By mid-April all groups 1-9 on the JCVI list (phase one of the programme) will have been vaccinated. These groups represent 99% of Covid deaths and more than 80% of hospitalisations so, by the beginning of May when we’ve allowed immunity to build up in those most at risk, the justification for any legislative restrictions becomes harder to make. Put simply, we shouldn’t be keeping parts of our country in lockdown, with all the substantial harm it brings, a moment longer than necessary.
There is nothing ‘let it rip’ or irresponsible about this view. Multiple Government Ministers and scientists have made crystal clear that the vaccines we have available are effective in preventing hospitalisations and deaths – including those infected with the new variants.
This is vitally important since Covid is highly likely, in the words of the Chief Scientific Advisor, to become an endemic disease just like flu. The test of a vaccine is not its ability to eradicate disease but to protect those who have received it against severe illness. Remember, only one human disease in history has been eliminated by a vaccine and that is smallpox.
New variants of the virus that do not currently exist are possible but to totally eliminate this threat we would have to totally eliminate Covid everywhere in the world. If this is the aim of some it is important they’re honest about what guarding against the threat of new variants in such a way would entail.
Indeed, if you can’t vaccinate your way out of Covid, what is the exit strategy? It is hard to see how anything other than permanent cycle of lockdowns and restrictions then becomes reality.
Our Prime Minister was right when he told Parliament; “There is therefore no credible route to a zero-Covid Britain or indeed a zero-Covid world, and we cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy, our physical and mental wellbeing, and the life chances of our children”. Well said Boris.
Steve Brine MP