Covid-19 is no longer a disease of the vaccinated, the head of the Oxford jab programme has said.
The “ongoing horror” of patients gasping for breath in hospital is now “largely restricted” to people who are unvaccinated, according to Prof Sir Andrew Pollard.
Even though the more transmissible Delta variant continues to infect thousands, most of those who are fully vaccinated will experience only “mild infections” that are “little more than an unpleasant inconvenience”.
Writing for the Guardian, Pollard said: “Among the general public, the pandemic is still regarded as a silent pestilence, made visible in the images of patients fighting for their next breath … This ongoing horror, which is taking place across ICUs in Britain, is now largely restricted to unvaccinated people.
“Generally, Covid-19 is no longer a disease of the vaccinated; vaccines tend to limit its suffocating affliction, with a few exceptions.”
Scientists are hopeful that the booster jabs rollout and immunity from the summertime spread of the Delta variant should help the UK escape the surge in infections seen in parts of Europe.
The UK, which saw measures eased in the summer and has higher vaccination levels than some European countries, will probably not be hit as hard, Pollard said. “In countries with lower vaccination rates, the impact of the current wave in hospital ICUs will be far worse than in Britain.”
However, Pollard, one of those behind the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, said Covid would still pile pressure on the NHS this winter – with unvaccinated patients requiring intensive care and double-jabbed patients who are older and frail still at risk of “life-threatening” health issues.
“The latest wave of the virus in the UK, which is now rising rapidly in parts of Europe, will directly translate into a stream of mostly unvaccinated patients entering ICU,” he said in the article jointly authored with Prof Brian Angus, professor of infectious disease at the University of Oxford. “To prevent serious illness, these people need first and second doses of the vaccine as soon as possible.
“For those of us fortunate enough to have already been vaccinated, the story now seems very different. For most vaccinated individuals, these mild infections are little more than an unpleasant inconvenience.”
But for those who are very frail, immunocompromised or have underlying health conditions, Pollard and Angus said, Covid infections can still be “enough to destabilise them” and cause “serious, life-threatening health problems that add to the pressure on the NHS”.
Prof Peter Openshaw, of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told BBC Breakfast on Monday he was pleased that the UK could currently avoid measures being introduced in Europe.
However, he added: “I am concerned that we do have really quite high levels of transmission in the UK. My personal preference would be that we should really try to get these rates down – we know that masks do work … because there are people who are unvaccinated for various reasons, and we do need to try and reduce the level of circulation of the virus, as well as getting up vaccination rates.
“No single measure by itself is going to be successful; we need the combination of measures, which includes re-vaccination, third doses, but also wearing masks and being very careful not to transmit the virus.”