Some of the UK's leading scientists have said that Covid-19 could become more like the common cold by next spring with people’s immunity to the virus boosted by vaccines and exposure.But they warned transmission of the virus is still expected to be high, despite the vaccine rollout extending to 12 to 15 year olds, as various experts shared their expectations for the coming winter.
So why don't experts think vaccines and boosters will reduce transmission?Professor Sir John Bell from Oxford University said Covid vaccines worked to prevent serious illness and death but “don’t really effectively reduce the amount of transmission”.
Case numbers have risen in recent weeks as schools returned, but he added "it’s pretty important that we don’t panic about where we are now”, as “the number of severe infections and deaths from Covid remains very low”.
Sir John added: “If everybody’s expecting the vaccines and the boosters to stop that, they won’t. And it’s slightly a false promise.”
Do they expect Covid will get worse over winter?
The scientists tend to be in agreement that there will be challenges going into autumn and winter.Professor Neil Ferguson predicts infections will go up as people meet indoors more.The academic, whose modelling was instrumental to the UK going into lockdown, said additional restrictions couldn't be ruled out if there was a “really significant uptick” in hospital admissions.
Sir John said we're in a better position now than we were six months ago, but we need to get through winter before things will get better.
What impact will vaccinating 12 to 15 year olds have in the coming months?
Children in England aged 12-15 have now been offered their first dose of a covid-19 vaccine to try to help ease Covid pressures this winter.
Prof Ferguson said he's "moderately optimistic" vaccinating children will help, “as long as we can roll out the booster programme and the vaccination of teenagers as promptly as possible".He added: "I do think we’ll probably have to move to second doses in teenagers as well to get effective levels of protection against Delta, as long as that is done in a prompt way, I’m moderately optimistic."
Sir John said he agreed with England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, that the vast majority of children would get Covid without a vaccine, adding “this is now an endemic virus, it’ll circulate pretty widely”.
But Sir John said there are “no bad consequences” in children with the virus, adding that “I don’t think there’s any reason to panic”.
He continued: “I don’t think we’re going to have a lot of children in intensive care units. And in fact, the evidence is we don’t, we never have. And the likelihood of severe disease (is) quite small.”
So what could Covid look like next spring?
Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, who helped develop the AstraZeneca vaccine, said viruses tend to become weaker as they spread around so after winter we could see a weakened strain of Covid.
She said: “We normally see that viruses become less virulent as they circulate more easily and there is no reason to think we will have a more virulent version of Sars-CoV-2.
“We tend to see slow genetic drift of the virus and there will be gradual immunity developing in the population as there is to all the other seasonal coronaviruses.”
Seasonal coronaviruses cause colds, and Dame Sarah said: “Eventually Sars-CoV-2 will become one of those."