The UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme may already be having an effect in reducing coronavirus infections and deaths, according to official statistics which are the first signs of success in the roll-out.
People aged 80 or older are now more likely to test positive for antibodies against Covid-19, suggesting they will not fall ill if they are exposed to someone infected with the virus.
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And NHS England data show that the over-80s now make up fewer than half of those dying from the disease, for the first time since the start of the second wave in the autumn.
Government scientists are currently compiling a dossier of data to present to Prime Minister Boris Johnson later this week as he draws up the ‘road map’ for the end of England’s third national lockdown.
The Prime Minister has said he wants to see proof that vaccines are helping to drive down the daily count of cases, hospitalisations and deaths so that it is safe to reopen the country without seeing a spike in all those numbers.
‘Very rapid fall’
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests in January, 40.9 per cent of people aged 80 or over would have tested positive for antibodies, more than any other age group.
Previously younger groups have been more likely to display antibodies because they are more likely to have been infected in the past and recovered.
Esther Sutherland of the ONS said: “Antibody positivity rates have increased across all four nations and the effects of the vaccination programmes have begun to appear, especially in the older age groups.”
A further indicator of how vaccinations are making a difference to the UK’s Covid-19 outbreak comes in the age profile of those who are dying after being infected. Since deaths began to pick up again in the autumn, the over-80s have made up roughly 55 per cent of all those who have died in hospital in England.
That proportion has now dropped below half for the first time: in the five more recent days for which NHS figures are available, 1,289 people aged at least 80 died compared to 1,292 below that age.
‘Deaths back to almost normal levels’
Oxford statistics professor Sir David Spiegelhalter said the overall number of deaths should be back to normal for the time of the year by next month. He told Times Radio: “With the vaccine starting to kick in, we’re really seeing a very rapid fall, I think better than most people would have expected such that by next month we could expect – and actually sticking my neck out – I think that deaths could be back to almost normal levels by next month.”
Ministers have been wary of declaring that vaccines are succeeding in pushing cases down because they are worried about encouraging the public to ignore the lockdown rules – but they expect the effect of the jabs to become obvious and undeniable in the coming weeks.
Nadhim Zahawi, the minister for the vaccines roll-out, said: “We are beginning to see more and more data but at the moment it’s far too early to begin to speculate on the data until we see it and, hopefully, see it with the naked eye rather than just having to calculate it.”