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Watch: Vaccine data 'so good' it points to lockdown ending earlier
COVID vaccine data 'so good' that it points to 'earlier unlocking', Sage adviser tells MPs
UK is third in the world in terms of vaccine doses per 100 people
However, NHS boss urging caution against 'relaxing restrictions prematurely'
Boris Johnson says England's lockdown will be eased 'in stages'
Coronavirus vaccine data is “so good” that it points to an earlier end to the UK’s lockdowns, MPs have been told.
Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) adviser Professor Mark Woolhouse said every aspect of the UK’s vaccine rollout has gone so well that ministers should bring forward their plans to begin easing restrictions.
As of 15 February, 16.12 million doses had been administered in the UK. According to Oxford University’s Our World in Data website, the UK is third in the world in terms of doses administered per 100 people.
Scotland will ease its lockdown on Monday with the reopening of schools, while England’s “road map” out of lockdown will be shared by Boris Johnson on the same day.
Prof Woolhouse, appearing before the House of Commons science and technology committee on Wednesday, said the vaccine data points to an “earlier unlocking” than initially planned.
He told MPs: “We don’t want to be overly focused on dates, not at all. We want to be focused on data.
“The point I’d make about that is the data are going really well. The vaccination rollout is exceeding most people’s expectations, [take-up of the vaccine] is turning out to be very high.
“The third thing that is very good about the data is the actual performance of the vaccine. Transmission-blocking potential is key and so is its ability to protect against death and disease and to keep people out of hospital. All those numbers are looking really good.”
Though official studies on the effectiveness of the UK’s vaccine rollout have yet to be released, one data analysis by The Guardian found COVID deaths have fallen 62% among over-80s since 24 January, the point at which a third of that age group had some level of immunity against the virus.
Prof Woolhouse, who is professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Edinburgh University, concluded: “If you’re driven by the data and not by dates, right now you should be looking at earlier unlocking because the data is so good.”
As well as the reopening of schools, which is the top priority of all UK leaders, Prof Woolhouse suggested outdoor activities should be opening up first because there is "very, very little evidence that any transmission outdoors is happening in the UK".
However, one NHS boss urged caution earlier on Wednesday, saying the vaccine rollout alone can't justify a relaxation of restrictions.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of the NHS Providers organisation, has set out four "tests" for easing England's lockdown: getting COVID case numbers down, reducing pressure on the NHS, further strides in the vaccination programme, and an effective strategy to control future outbreaks.
Hopson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “We had 500 COVID patients in hospitals in September and yet, 15 weeks later, we had 34,000 patients, and we were perilously close to overwhelmed.
"So, what that says to you is that you just need to be really careful before you start relaxing the restrictions prematurely.”
The prime minister, asked about the easing of England's lockdown during a visit to a mass vaccination centre in Wales, said Monday's "road map" will be "based firmly on a cautious and prudent approach".
Johnson, who has previously said it will be 8 March "at the earliest" before restrictions are eased, said this will be done in "stages".
He also suggested hospitality businesses will be among the last to reopen – just as they were when the first lockdown was eased last summer.
Some lockdown-sceptic Conservative MPs are piling pressure on the PM to open up more quickly, calling for all measures to be lifted as soon as the vulnerable are vaccinated.
Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown