Covid: UK 'won't be back to square one' if vaccines ineffective against variants, top scientist says

Credit: PA

The UK will not be back at square one if the new variants of Covid-19 are resistant to the vaccine, a leading scientist advising the government has said.

Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London and a member of the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said “I don’t think we’d be back to square one at all" if the variants reduce vaccine efficacy.

He told Sky News that scientists are “pretty confident” the vaccines work against the variant that emerged in Kent.

“We know less about the variants in Brazil and South Africa and there’s some laboratory data that suggests that immunity to them may be reduced but really very too early to say for sure," he said.

The UK has committed to giving around 13 million people the vaccine by mid February. Credit: PA

Professor Hayward also pointed out it was likely even if the vaccines weren't fully effective against the variants they would still provide some protection.

"In terms of the technologies that are being used in these vaccines, the ability to, if you like, remodel them according to the new viruses is likely to be much quicker than, for example, the technology that we’ve been using in flu vaccines, where it’s a slow and laborious process," he said.

Professor Hayward highlighted how scientists were able to remodel the flu vaccine every year and he said he could "certainly see something like that happening" with the Covid vaccines.

The new variants have been a cause of concern for the government. Credit: PA

The South African and Brazilian variants of Covid have been a cause of concern for the government.

The government has closed the borders for anyone entering the country unless they have a negative test and get another one within a few days of arriving.

The fear of the new variants is so high the government may tighten rules even further and force all arrivals to quarantine for 10 days in a hotel at their own expense under plans that are still being discussed.

The government has committed to vaccinating around 13 million people by the middle of February.

The number includes all of the people who are most vulnerable to the virus as well as all frontline health and care workers.

Margaret Keenan, 90, was the first person in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech covid-19 vaccine. Credit: PA

The latest figures show 6.3 million doses have now been handed out in the UK, with the vast majority of them first injections.

Almost 500,000 doses were provided on Saturday, the highest daily figure so far.

The government has faced criticism for its decision to delay the second injection of the vaccines by up to 12 weeks.

The World Health Organization has recommended a six week gap between injections of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The British Medical Association has written to the chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty urging a rethink.

Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, defended the delayed dosing regime being used in the UK.

He said he didn't expect to see any reduction in protection at any point between the 12 weeks.

He said: "Other countries are looking at what the UK is doing with enormous interest and this may well turn out to be another example of a long tradition in us being innovative, creative with our resources and producing a much better way of using the vaccine.”

He warned that people could be “misled” by critics complaining there is a lack of evidence for the government’s approach, insisting there is “absolutely rock-solid evidence that if you give a dose of the vaccine to more people you give them protection and save lives”.