The government’s chief scientific adviser has urged Britons to continue to adhere to social distancing guidance – as it remains unclear whether Pfizer’s vaccine stops transmission of coronavirus.
Sir Patrick Vallance also hailed the beginning of the vaccine rollout as a “tremendous day”, but added things will not start returning to normal in the UK until spring next year.
He added face masks could still be needed late into 2021.
Sir Patrick told Sky News it takes time for the “immune system to kick in” after the vaccine, and said it can take a month or longer before a person has full immunity.
He continued: “It is important that we all stick to the rules… the rules are what’s keeping the virus down now, we need to keep the virus down while we allow the vaccine programme to roll out.
“It may be that next winter, even with vaccination, we need measures like masks in place – we don’t know yet how good all the vaccines are going to be at preventing the transmission of the virus.”
Sir Patrick continued: “It’s going to take quite a long time to make sure everybody in the at-risk groups and all of the groups that are difficult to reach get vaccinated as appropriate.”
When asked about when life might return to how it was before the pandemic, Sir Patrick said: “It’s very important that we understand this is the start of something. It’s going to take quite a long time to get the vaccines out very widely.
“I would anticipate that if the vaccines arrive, and if the AstraZeneca vaccine gets approved, that you start to see enough people having been vaccinated in spring some time to start thing ‘yes this is returning towards normal’.
“But when it becomes completely normal, and completely normal across the whole world is going to take longer.”
He added: “So I would expect sort of springtime, April, something like that, you start to see more return towards normality, and thereafter its going to take a while before we’re back to full normality.”
The Pfizer vaccine is being rolled out while the Oxford/AstraZeneca being produced in the UK is yet to have had approval.
Sir Patrick has said scientists are looking at whether it will be possible to combine different COVID-19 vaccines to boost the results.
He continued: “It’s a pretty standard way of boosting the immune system, so-called heterologous prime-boost.
“What it means is that you give one vaccine to get the immune system triggered up and another one to then boost it further with a different vaccine – that’s an established way of getting the immune system geed up.”
Sir Patrick also said he hopes vaccines which are easier to store and distribute than the Pfizer vaccine will become available soon.
The vaccine has to be stored at between -70C and -80C and can only be transported at elevated temperatures a limited number of times.
Sir Patrick said: “We do need to make sure, going forward, there are vaccines that are easier to distribute and deploy.”
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Sir Patrick added it was important to recognise this morning’s rollout was not about “vaccine nationalism”, despite the UK becoming the first country to use the Pfizer vaccine outside of trials this morning.
He continued: “It’s a really tremendous day… (but) it’s important to recognise that the vaccine effort has been a global one – there are countries and scientists everywhere trying to make vaccines and it looks like lots are going to be successful, which is the really good news about this.”
Sir Patrick said the UK’s vaccine taskforce has been vital in ensuring that the country is able to monitor and get access to vaccines being developed all over the world, as well as supporting home-grown efforts.
He continued: “This isn’t about vaccine nationalism. The UK has done well to get itself set up and access vaccines and it is brilliant we are in a position to vaccinate someone today.”
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