Covid: Why the UK should be concerned about Europe's third wave of coronavirus despite vaccine progress

A Covid patient being treated in a Madrid hospital. Credit: AP

The Prime Minister has reiterated the warnings given on Friday that we should all be aware of what is going on in Europe and be prepared that any third wave of the pandemic there, could come here.

But given 27,630,970 people have had their first vaccine dose and 2,228,772 have had both do we, really, need to be concerned?

The answer to that is yes. For two reasons.

Firstly, there is no doubt the vast majority of those at serious risk of the disease have had their first vaccination but four and half million adults in the top priority groups have yet to have it and there are 21 million under-50s unprotected.

Any rise in cases will affect these people, and as a scientist said to me on Friday many people don't know they are vulnerable until they get Covid and become very ill.

In fact, around 14,000 people under the age of 50 have been hospitalised and there've been around 400 deaths in that age group. That is not a small number.

The other consideration is that the vaccine is not 100%. There will always be a minority group of people for whom the injection doesn't work and whom are still at risk from the disease.

We can't just gloss over the fact there will still be a number of people, no matter how small,  who will get seriously ill.

Boris Johnson, who had his vaccine last week, has warned that the third wave in Europe will come to the UK's shores. Credit: AP

That is why we have to be aware, keep the roadmap under review and be very careful ourselves.

The second reason we shouldn't be complacent about Europe's third wave is that there are, we're told, pockets of the South African variant across Europe.

In France, some of those clusters have really quite high numbers of that variant.

Most of the cases, between 70% and 80%, in Europe are the Kent variant so the South African one hasn't been able to really take hold but there is of course, concern here that any spread in cases from Europe could bring the South Africa variant with it. 

The vaccine is not 100% meaning there will be a minority of people who get sick in spite of having the jab. Credit: AP

One very senior scientific government advisor said on Friday that is the one variant most likely to have some resistance to the vaccine so it could cause problems, even amongst the vaccinated population.

This all comes just as the vaccine programme is about to slow down significantly here because of supply issues and just as lockdown begins to ease further.

There will no doubt be a rise in cases once society starts to open up again and what we don't want is spread from Europe at that moment.

The UK, despite our incredible vaccine programme, is still in a very precarious position and it wouldn't take much for things to start going the wrong way again.

No one wants more lockdowns and more cases and that is we why we have to be very aware of what is happening on the continent.