Science has proved Boris Johnson wrong – vaccines are reducing deaths and cases

Sarah Knapton
·5-min read
Covid illustration
Covid illustration
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Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

Boris Johnson raised eyebrows on Tuesday when he suggested that the reduction in Covid infections, hospital admissions and deaths had not been achieved by the vaccination programme, with the lockdown doing "the bulk of the work".

Thankfully, less than 24 hours later, science had proved the Prime Minister wrong.

New research from NHS England and the University of Manchester showed the stark difference in cases, admissions and deaths for elderly people who had been vaccinated compared to those who had not.

In a large study involving more than 170,000 people, researchers had scrupulously case-matched participants to make sure the results were not skewed by underlying conditions, sex or geographical location.

The results show that far from having little impact, the rate of Covid-related hospital admissions fell by 75 per cent in vaccinated 80 to 83-year-olds within 35 to 41 days of their first dose of the Pfizer jab. The rate of people getting Covid dropped by 70 per cent, with the number of positive tests falling from 15.3 per 100,000 people to 4.6.

The authors conclude: "The nationwide vaccination of older adults in England with the [Pfizer] vaccine reduced the burden of Covid-19."

On Wednesday, Sir Simon Stevens, the NHS chief executive, told the Health Service Journal: "Vaccines are successfully reducing hospitalisations and deaths amongst the cohorts that have had the vaccine." 

The figures also suggest the link between infections and admissions has also been broken by the vaccine programme.

While nearly 40 per cent of unvaccinated people who were infected ended up in hospital, only 32 per cent of the vaccinated cohort did.

Watch: Easing lockdown restrictions will inevitably lead to more deaths – Johnson

On Wednesday, Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London and the lead scientist on the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app, said he had been "quite surprised" by Mr Johnson's comments and accused him of "living in a slightly different world".

"The vaccination programme has been hugely successful and anyone who says it isn't really isn't looking at the data," he said. "Even last summer we were still seeing cases in care homes, and hospitals outbreaks. And by vaccinating hospital staff and the elderly, we broke that really deadly cycle. 

"So there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that the drop in rates is mainly due to the vaccination. Obviously lockdowns do have some effect, but the peak of infections was actually Jan 1 and that would have reflected what was going on a week before that, so actually you can't link the lockdown to exactly the drop in cases." 

Prof Spector, speaking to Talk Radio, added: "I think the vaccination programme has really saved us. After the second [dose], you're 20-fold less risk for getting infected, so to say that doesn't count is clearly not very scientific."

Last week, researchers at Imperial College found that the rate of infection fell in all age groups and regions across those two months, with figures also indicating the vaccine rollout could be breaking the link between infections, deaths and hospital admissions.

According to the latest round of the Real-Time Assessment of Community Transmission (React-1) study, just one in 500 people on average was still carrying the virus in March – a 60 per cent reduction. 

Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial, said the team had seen "some divergence" between observed patterns of infection and patterns of death since January. He said: "We think this probably suggests that the mass vaccination is breaking that link, to some degree, between infections and deaths."

Watch: What is long COVID?

On Wednesday, experts said all the data was moving in the right direction and it was not surprising that the public was questioning why restrictions were still needed

Professor David Spiegelhalter, the chairman of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, told Radio 4's Today Programme: "All the indicators are running at extremely good levels

"Deaths are very low, well lower than the five-year average. Cases, hospitalisations, they're all very low, and this was completely predictable that around now people will say 'why do we need to wait another two months before we are free of all these restrictions?'. We've just got to say that they are being very cautious.

"I'm glad I'm not in charge because I'd probably say 'oh come on, let's have a go', but they do not want to have to go backwards."

On Wednesday, the Government was accused of allowing "sloppy" data which overestimated the number of people currently dying from Covid infections to be presented to the public. 

On Tuesday, figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that almost 25 per cent of people registered as Covid deaths had died "with" the virus, rather than "from" it.

Diseases expert Professor Hugh Pennington said: "I've been going on about this for a long long time, because the definition of somebody dying 'from' Covid is that they've had a positive test within the last month or the month before they died. 

"And the assumption is then made that it was Covid that finished them off as it were. That's very, very sloppy, really. I would hesitate to use the word overkill, but on the other hand it is really important to get accurate statistics so that we know exactly what's happening. 

"And these are not accurate statistics – these are sort of a catch-all kind of number which we have to treat with very great caution. More than just caution, we have to treat those figures with a great deal of disrespect."