COVID lockdown can only be eased once 20 million are vaccinated, warns Chris Whitty

Britain's Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty walks in central London on October 27, 2020. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty has warned lockdown will only end once enough people are vaccinated. (Getty)

Nearly a third of the UK will have to be vaccinated before COVID restrictions can be lifted, England’s chief medical officer has warned.

Speaking at the Commons Science and Technology and Health and Social Care committees on Wednesday, Chris Whitty said lockdown rules could not be eased until some 20 million vulnerable people are vaccinated.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has set out a priority list – the 20 million people Whitty is referring to – of the groups who should be given the jab first.

The vaccines will be given initially to those in the first priority tier – residents in care homes for older adults, and their carers – then those in the next tier and so on, until the most vulnerable are covered.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty giving evidence at the Science and Technology Committee and Health and Social Care Committee, at Portcullis House in Westminster, London. (Photo by PA Video/PA Images via Getty Images)
Chris Whitty said restrictions need to stay in place for at least the next three months. (Getty)

The JCVI priority tiers are:

  1. Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers

  2. All those 80 years of age and over; frontline health and social care workers

  3. All those 75 years of age and over

  4. All those 70 years of age and over; clinically extremely vulnerable individuals

  5. All those 65 years of age and over

  6. All individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality

  7. All those 60 years of age and over

  8. All those 55 years of age and over

  9. All those 50 years of age and over

Watch: UK ‘should have multiple COVID vaccines next year’

When asked if restrictions could only be eased once the priority tiers are vaccinated, Whitty said: “This is ultimately a political question but I would think it would certainly be, I think very few people would recommend starting to really remove things during a high-risk period of the year, which the winter always will be for respiratory infections.”

Whitty said that once those in the priority tiers are given the jab, there will need to be a “conversation about… what we want to do next”.

Alluding to the desire for a lift of restrictions now that vaccinations are taking place, Whitty added: “Of course you can have the conversation in advance of that, but I think most people would want to see that level of protection happening.”

Whitty suggested that more vaccinations will need to take place, because if it is only vulnerable groups who are vaccinated, “you are still going to have a lot of people who are susceptible”.

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He added: “That will not produce population immunity even if it prevents transmission.

“So what that will do is substantially reduce mortality, significantly reduce the impact on the NHS, but it will still leave a lot of people who could become ill with this, and could in some cases have serious outcomes.”

The government has previously suggested that restrictions could ease by spring 2021 – and Whitty said it is unlikely they will be lifted any time in the next three months.

He warned: “For the next three months we will not have sufficient protection… the idea that we can suddenly stop now because the vaccine's here, that would be premature.”

Nurse May Parsons (R) administers the Pfizer/BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine to Margaret Keenan (L), 90, at University Hospital in Coventry, central England, on December 8, 2020 making Keenan the first person to receive the vaccine in the country's biggest ever immunisation programme. - Britain on December 8 hailed a turning point in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, as it begins the biggest vaccination programme in the country's history with a new Covid-19 jab. (Photo by Jacob King / POOL / AFP) / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by Jacob King has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: Pictures were taken on [December 8, 2020] instead of [December 9, 2020]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo by JACOB KING/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Nurse May Parsons administers the Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine to Margaret Keenan at University Hospital in Coventry. (Getty)

British grandmother Margaret Keenan became the first person in the world to receive Pfizer’s COVID-19 jab outside a clinical trial as the NHS began its mass vaccination programme across the UK.

The 90-year-old was given the jab in Coventry at 6.31am on Tuesday, marking the start of a phased NHS rollout of the vaccine to older people, health staff and care home workers.

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