Harsh Covid-19 restrictions will have to stay in place longer if Britons refuse to be vaccinated, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer has warned.
Jonathan Van-Tam said the entire country was “fed up” with social distancing – but said “the dream” of ending it lay in the hands of ordinary people, weighing up whether to have a jab.
“If you want that dream to come true as quickly as it can come true, then you have to take the vaccine when it’s offered to you,” he told a press conference.
“Low uptake will almost certainly make restrictions last longer.”
The comments came as the first survey since the dramatic go-ahead for the Pfizer vaccine found that one in five Britons lacks confidence in it.
Professor Van-Tam said he believed the days of the government recommending social distancing and mask-wearing would end, as “we get back to a much more normal world”.
But he also warned: “I don’t think we are going to eradicate coronavirus ever – I think it is going to be with humankind forever.”
He suggested it might become “a seasonal problem”, like flu, but there would be no moment for a “massive party”, akin to the end of the Second World War.
“I think those kinds of habits that we learned, that clearly stop the spread of other respiratory diseases like flu, will perhaps persist for many years.”
Alongside him, Boris Johnson was again more bullish about the prospects for the vaccine, saying he was “sure and certain knowledge we will succeed”.
But he played down any hopes of an earlier easing of the tiered system of restrictions, which is expected to last until at least March.
“I suppose there will come a moment when, if you imagine the graph of immunised, vaccinated, inoculated people going up one way, there will come a moment when we're able obviously to start to relax the non-pharmaceutical intervention.
“We hope will allow us to come down the tiering scales – but we're not there yet and I've got to stress that.
“This is theoretical and we have got to wait and see how fast we can vaccinate people. It's weeks, months of work to go before we're in that situation.”
However, most care home residents will need to wait for their vaccine – despite being top of the priority list – because of difficulties in transporting the newly-approved Pfizer jab, the head of the NHS confirmed.
Simon Stevens the jab has to be stored at such low temperatures that it can only be moved a few times, while the packs of doses – with 975 doses per pack – cannot yet be split up.
The first people to receive the jab, from 50 hospital hubs, would be the over-80s, care home staff and others who already have a hospital appointment.