Britain won’t yet offer US-style freedoms to people who are fully vaccinated against Covid because the country ‘tends to do everything together’, a leading medic said today.
Fully immunised Americans are allowed to stop wearing masks outdoors — except in large venues, and are permitted to meet up without restriction with other vaccinated people indoors.
But in the UK the 13.2million people who have had their full course of vaccines must still follow the same social distancing and lockdown rules as everyone else so younger people can catch up.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, told MPs: ‘This is about the population as a whole rather than those privileged individuals who have had two doses.’
Current rules in Britain allow groups of six to meet up outdoors, outdoor service at bars and restaurants, and overnight stays with your own household.
Indoor meet-ups are still banned and people cannot have gatherings of more than six people, unless they are at a specifically permitted event like a wedding.
This is despite scientific research piling up to prove that vaccines work very well in the real world and even appear to drastically cut transmission of the virus.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, told MPs today: ‘This is about the population as a whole rather than those privileged individuals who have had two doses’
More than 13.2million people have already had a second dose of their Covid vaccine, suggesting over a quarter of adults will have maximum immunity in the next couple of weeks
As lockdown rules are loosened across the UK, people are anxious to get more freedom as quickly as they can.
And with vaccines touted as the only way back to normality, people already fully immunised may feel they deserve to have their lives less tightly controlled after spending more than a year under restrictions.
Greg Clark MP, the chair of Parliament’s science and technology committee, today suggested they were being kept in lockdown for ‘sociological reasons’ rather than scientific ones.
Studies have showed vaccines work and officials in the US have decided evidence is strong enough to grant vaccinated people more freedoms.
PHE’s Dr Mary Ramsay said the Government makes the decisions on the roadmap, not health officials, but that second dose numbers only recently began to rise.
WHAT CAN FULLY VACCINATED PEOPLE DO IN THE US VS UK?
In the US fully vaccinated people can:
- Meet indoors with other vaccinated people without social distancing or masks;
- Meet unvaccinated people from one other household indoors without masks or social distancing;
- Choose not to wear a mask outdoors except in large venues or crowds;
- Take domestic flights without needing a Covid test;
- Don’t have to self-isolate if exposed to someone with Covid.
In the UK fully vaccinated people have the same freedoms as unvaccinated people, meaning they:
- Can not meet people from other households indoors;
- Can meet only in groups of six outdoors;
- Must still self-isolate if exposed to the virus;
- Must continue social distancing if meeting anyone they don’t live with.
‘I think they (the US) are able to be less cautious, perhaps, than us because of the fact that more people have had two doses, which one would expect to get even better protection against transmission,’ Dr Ramsay told the committee today.
‘Our data is now coming through showing that even one dose is very good, so I think we can begin to look at those factors and we are looking at those factors.
‘I think the other thing is we have a slightly different cultural perspective in this country in that we tend to do everything together.
‘We are trying to say that this is about the population as a whole rather than the individuals, those privileged individuals who have had two doses, being somehow able to do things that other people cannot.’
The difference between Britain’s rollout and other countries’ is that it changed the amount of time people wait between doses.
In the US and Europe the second doses are given three weeks after the first, as recommended by the vaccine makers.
In the UK, however, people must wait 12 weeks, a move taken by ministers in order to stretch limited supplies across a greater number of people.
The move paid off and single doses have been shown to give substantial protection against the virus, but it means the proportion of people who are fully vaccinated is lower than in the US, for example, where 97million out of 142million vaccinated people have had both doses – 68 per cent, compared to 39 per cent in the UK.
Dr Ramsay suggested that vaccinated people might be put under different rules if social distancing comes back in the future but that the roadmap should be a UK-wide effort.
‘It is really very important that we have as many people vaccinated before we release all those restrictions, so at the moment we are trying to balance it very carefully,’ she said.
‘As more people get vaccinated, we are releasing gradually, we’re observing what happens, and then that’s allowing us to carry on.
‘But it does depend on what the future holds, how people behave, how the vaccine works.’
The PHE chief added: ‘There is a risk that we get a resurgence as we release restrictions – hopefully that will mainly lead to mild disease and younger people, but there will still be the risk that those people can potentially pass this on to older individuals who are, for whatever reason, either unable to respond to vaccine, unvaccinated or maybe if the vaccine begins to lose protection over time.’
Fully vaccinated people in the UK don’t get any extra freedoms, whereas they are given more licence to meet people indoors in the US (Pictured: A woman is vaccinated in Reading, Berkshire)