Herd immunity is “not a possibility” because the Delta variant is still spreading fast and infecting fully vaccinated people, the head of the Oxford Vaccine Group has said.
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard told MPs in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on coronavirus that although 95% vaccination would stop transmission of measles, the same was not true for COVID.
He warned that this means “anyone still unvaccinated at some point will meet the virus”.
The UK recorded its highest daily COVID deaths since March on Tuesday
Herd immunity is when enough people become resistant to a disease – through vaccination or previous exposure – that it can no longer significantly spread among the rest of the population.
Sir Andrew said the vaccine might slow the spread of coronavirus, but as the Delta variant – first identified in India – is highly transmissible, jabs will not contain it altogether.
“We know very clearly with coronavirus that this current variant, the Delta variant, will still infect people who have been vaccinated and that does mean that anyone who’s still unvaccinated, at some point, will meet the virus,” he told MPs.
“I think we are in a situation here with this current variant where herd immunity is not a possibility because it still infects vaccinated individuals.”
Sir Andrew said the next thing might be “a variant which is even better at transmitting in vaccinated populations”, adding: “So, that’s even more of a reason not to be making a vaccine programme around herd immunity.”
However, the Oxford Vaccine Group director also said there was likely to be “increasing confidence” about the UK’s coronavirus situation.
Sir Andrew said the vaccine might slow the spread of the Delta variant but won’t contain it altogether
He told the APPG: “I think this next six months is a really important consolidation phase and in that shift from the epidemic to the endemic, which is the living with COVID.
“That doesn’t mean that we live with it and put up with it – we still have to manage those cases of patients who become unwell with it.”
Sir Andrew’s comments come as the UK reported its highest daily COVID deaths since March.
There were 23,510 new cases and 146 more coronavirus-related deaths in the latest 24-hour period.
The figures compare with 25,161 infections and 37 fatalities reported on Monday, while last Tuesday 21,691 cases and 138 deaths were announced.
The number of deaths is the highest since 175 were reported on 12 March.
Since the pandemic began,130,503 people have died in the UK within 28 days of testing positive.
The government says three quarters of adults are now fully vaccinated
The government also announced on Tuesday that more than three quarters of adults in the UK have now received both doses of a vaccine.
The Department of Health and Social Care said a total of 86,780,455 jabs had now been administered, with 89% of people having received a first dose and 75% two doses.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson described it as “a huge national achievement which we should all be proud of”, while Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the vaccine was “helping us to work our way out of this pandemic towards normal”.