Face masks may still be needed next winter despite the UK rollout of a coronavirus vaccine, the government’s chief scientific adviser has warned.
Sir Patrick Vallance struck a note of caution as the UK’s mass coronavirus immunisation programme began on Tuesday.
Margaret Keenan, 90, originally from Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, became the first person in the world to be given the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine outside a clinical trial when she was given her jab at University Hospital Coventry.
It was the first of 800,000 doses to be given over the coming days and weeks, but health secretary Matt Hancock promised “several million” will be delivered before the end of this month.
Hancock told the House of Commons on Tuesday that he has booked his own summer holiday to Cornwall, as the UK’s vaccine taskforce chair, Kate Bingham, predicted the vaccine will mean Britons will be able to go on holiday next summer.
Watch: Hancock says NHS faces ‘Herculean task’ rolling out vaccine
However, Sir Patrick, while welcoming the rollout of the vaccination programme, warned that face masks may still be required this time next year in an ongoing battle against coronavirus.
He pointed out that while the vaccine prevents the virus taking hold in the body, it is not yet known if it prevents transmission among the vaccinated to the non-vaccinated.
“It may be that next winter, even with vaccination, we need measures like masks in place – we don’t know yet how good all the vaccines are going to be at preventing the transmission of the virus,” Sir Patrick told Sky News.
“It’s going to take quite a long time to make sure everybody in the at-risk groups and all of the groups that are difficult to reach get vaccinated as appropriate. It takes time after the vaccine for the immune system to kick in.”
He said it can take a month or longer before the vaccine gives full immunity.
“This is incredibly important and it is important that we all stick to the rules in the meantime – the rules are what’s keeping the virus down now, we need to keep the virus down while we allow the vaccine programme to roll out.”
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Sir Patrick also said: “Whilst we start the first steps on the path to getting back to normality in due course, we need to remain vigilant not let our guard down as the vaccine is rolled out, but this is still a tremendous day of celebration.”
Hancock urged people to continue to obey the coronavirus restrictions despite the rollout of a vaccine.
He told Sky News: “It’s great news that we are the first country in the world to have this clinically authorised and being able to roll out this programme.
“And when enough people who are vulnerable to COVID-19 have been vaccinated then, of course, we can lift the restrictions… we think that will be in the spring.
“It is no good everybody relaxing now – we’ve got to hold firm until the vaccination programme has reached enough vulnerable people so that we don’t have people dying from coronavirus in the number that we do today.”
Prime minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday: “It will gradually make a huge, huge difference, but I stress ‘gradually’ because we are not there yet, we have not defeated this virus yet.
“We can’t afford to relax now and so my message would be it’s amazing to see the vaccine coming out.”
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