Reducing COVID to 'the sniffles' would be job done, says expert

·4-min read
Professor Andrew Pollard talks to the APPG on vaccines. (APPG coronavirus)
Professor Andrew Pollard talks to the APPG on vaccines. (APPG coronavirus)

Reducing symptoms to "the sniffles" in most coronavirus cases would be "job done", a top scientist has said.

Professor Andrew Pollard, chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said the current generation of coronavirus vaccines may already be able to stop severe illness against future variants.

It comes as completly stopping coronavirus transmission becomes increasingly unlikely with new variants emerging across the world.

The UK is aiming to vaccinate 15 million people, including over-70s, vulnerable groups and healthcare workers within the next few weeks.

Millions have already had their first jabs with Britain having one of the highest levels of vaccine coverage so far, along with Israel and the UAE.

Read: Are coronavirus vaccines being wasted in the UK?

Speaking to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) public hearing on COVID vaccines on Tuesday, Prof Pollard said: “As we move to a point where more people are immunised around the world, or have natural infection, the virus will only survive if it is able to make new versions of itself that can still spread… despite that immunity.

“I think we have to come to terms with the fact that that is going to be the future," he added.

Pollard suggested that while new vaccines may be needed to stop the spread of new variants, they may not be needed to prevent serious illness or hospitalisations.

The hearing heard evidence about how to best roll out coronavirus vaccines.
The hearing heard evidence about how to best roll out coronavirus vaccines.

He said: "At this point, the jury is out on that. All of the vaccines in the trials in those regions where new variants are emerging – we are not seeing a sudden shift where lots of people who are vaccinated are ending up in hospital. They are still being protected from hospitalisation."

Pollard said that more data is needed to get a concrete answer, but in the meantime new vaccines must be prepared just in case.

"We might need boosters, we might need tweaks every year, but actually we might not," he said. "We might be generating enough immunity with the current generation of vaccines to stop severe disease."

"If people have just got the sniffles then I think our job is done," he added.

Watch: COVID-19: Over-70s can now book first coronavirus jab

On being asked by Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran about how decisions are made on who should be vaccinated next, Pollard said: “If we could vaccinate all those who are the spreaders, we would actually be ahead of all this.

"It would all be over because then we could just stop transmission. If you stop the virus in its tracks then it would be fine."

However, he also said that vaccinating spreaders may not be enough to stop transmission of new strains, saying: “The difficulty we have is that this virus is changing.

"Those new variants will arise to escape from immunity so the virus can still transmit," he added.

“So going after individuals who are transmitting is really helpful in that it can halt disease but only if you’re dealing with a vaccine that’s well matched to the particular variant that you have at that moment."

Pollard also said it was always possible a "super-strain" might emerge and scientists do not know what the next wave of spread will look like.

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He said: "It could well be that it's with a variant that we're not prepared for and then there'll be further spread afterwards."

But Pollard also added that all the data from vaccines so far suggests that the current jabs will have a "big impact on severe disease".

He said: "There's a high chance, I think, that we could be in a position later in the year where there's a new wave of spread but as long and we've got lots of people vaccinated in the population we won't see so many severe cases at all and we'll be getting ahead of that bit of it, but we may have a much bigger problem in stopping transmission."

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