People must be told to keep social distancing and wearing face coverings even after they have had a Covid vaccine, SAGE has warned.
In a paper produced by the Government’s scientific advisers, experts said officials should make sure immunised Britons understand they have to keep following the rules.
Although people who receive the vaccine should be protected from severe disease from two to three weeks after getting the jab, they could still spread the illness.
And until there is a ‘high degree of coverage’ which protects most of those at risk of death, social distancing must carry on as normal, the scientists said.
The paper was produced by SPI-B, a sub-group of SAGE that focuses on people’s behaviour and how it might affect the coronavirus outbreak.
They said they were fairly confident that ‘some of those who have been vaccinated will show a reduction in personal protective behaviours’.
Surges in infections could follow, they warned, which would be dangerous for others who hadn’t yet been vaccinated.
The Government has got the country’s biggest ever vaccination drive under way and has given immunisations to 1.3million out of the 13.9m people it plans to get protected by mid-February.
A huge vaccination programme is now under way in the UK as the Government plans to immunise 13.9million people against Covid-19 by mid-February (Pictured: A man receives a vaccine in his car a drive-through centre in Hyde, Manchester)
In a paper presented to SAGE and published today, SPI-B researchers said: ‘Indirect evidence from surveys conducted during the current pandemic as well as from previous vaccination campaigns suggest that, in the absence of any mitigation policies, some of those who have been vaccinated will show a reduction in personal protective behaviours.
‘These behaviours are those relating to hand and surface hygiene, use of tissues and face coverings, physical distancing and ventilating rooms.’
It added: ‘Adherence might decline if people feel less of a need for protection, or the rules and guidance seem less salient [important] to them as attention focuses more on the vaccine.’
It said the impact of people who had been vaccinated ignoring these rules was unknown.
But if it happened en masse it could lead to a spike in coronavirus infections among people not yet protected by immunisation.
Although vaccines are being given to the most vulnerable and elderly people first, it could be months before people in their 60s, 50s, 40s and younger get access to jabs, and the virus can kill them or make them seriously ill, too.
BRITAIN APPROVES MODERNA COVID VACCINE BUT WON’T GET DOSES UNTIL MARCH
Britain today approved Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine – but won’t be able to get any of the 17million doses it has bought until March at the earliest.
Moderna’s Covid jab is the third to be given the green light by regulators in the UK, joining the vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford University/AstraZeneca.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted that No10 won’t get any doses until the spring but said: ‘This is further great news and another weapon in our arsenal to tame this awful disease.’ And Business Secretary Alok Sharma described it as ‘another huge step towards ending lockdown’.
The EU – which approved the same vaccine two days ago – will get supplies of the jab from next week after health chiefs struck a deal with the US-firm to buy 180million doses last summer.
With Britain now scrambling to vaccinate 13million vulnerable Britons in the hope of ending the constant cycle of lockdowns by mid-February, an extra jab could have been a blessing.
Moderna’s vaccine was the second one to announce the results of its last-stage clinical trials when it did so in November, after Pfizer and BioNTech. They showed the vaccine appeared to prevent 94.5 per cent of Covid cases.
Moderna’s and Pfizer’s use the same technology, which had never been tried before, so scientists said it would have been a big gamble for the UK to order both.
SPI-B said: ‘Given the very large cost to health, wellbeing and the economy of a reduction in adherence, we recommend preparing for, and taking action to mitigate any decline in adherence related to vaccine roll-out.’
The group told SAGE that the Government should start a ‘culturally tailored’ communication strategy making sure everyone understands they have to keep following the rules.
It said officials should try to monitor whether people who have been vaccinated are still following rules and intervene if they’re not.
The current vaccination policy aims to get jabs to the most vulnerable groups of people – the elderly, those who are shielding and NHS staff and care workers – by the middle of February.
If this is achieved, the national lockdown could ease at the end of next month.
But it is unlikely rules will be loosened in any meaningful way until around half the population of the UK has had a Covid vaccine.
The new fast-spreading variant of the virus, which emerged in Kent in September, means that outbreaks are harder to control and lockdown rules must be stricter.
The current national shutdown is seen as the tough final push to try and bring the UK’s crisis to an end around one year after it began.
SPI-B members pointed to a survey done in early December that found up to 40 per cent of people said they wouldn’t be as strict about following rules after getting a vaccine.
The YouGov survey found that 50 per cent of people said they would follow whatever rules were in place, 29 per cent said they would be less strict than before, and 11 per cent said they probably wouldn’t bother at all.
The remaining participants said they were not sure.
In a positive note, however, SPI-B said it believed people would continue to follow rules after a vaccine if it was explained to them why they needed to.
It added: ‘People adhere to Covid-19 protective behaviours in the interests of others (as well as themselves), and in the past have been willing to get vaccinated for others (e.g. during the H1N1 pandemic).
‘One might therefore expect that they will be willing to continue to adhere to rules and guidance once a vaccine is available if they are made aware that this is still necessary to protect others.’
Using rapid tests on international travellers ‘could lead to higher infection rates than quarantining them’
Scientists led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine warned SAGE that replacing quarantine with rapid coronavirus tests for international travellers could lead to a spike in imported infections.
The UK has been divided on its policy of handling international arrivals, swinging between ideas of quarantining people for two weeks or allowing them to go out but testing them every day to make sure they aren’t infected.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today said the UK is now bringing in a policy where all arrivals will have to have proof of a negative test before being allowed in.
But the SAGE advisers have warned that daily testing instead of quarantining could lead to a higher rate of cases being imported.
They said this appeared to be true regardless of how often or for how long the travellers were tested.
They considered a 14-day quarantine with no tests, five-day quarantine with a lab-based swab test at the end, or no quarantine but rapid tests done every day for three, five or seven days, and forced isolation if any were positive.
Writing in a paper sent to SAGE on December 1 the group said: ‘We find potentially higher counts of infections resulting from returning travellers for all LFA [lateral flow antigen] testing durations as compared to the two quarantine options.
‘Differences within quarantine policies and across LFA testing durations were relatively small.’
The researchers explained that not forcing the travellers to quarantine increased the risk that they would come into contact with someone before testing positive, if they had the virus.
Lateral flow tests, which are cheap and give results in around 15 minutes, are designed for use on people who have symptoms so are not ideal for picking up infections in people who are only mildly ill.
Using them would run the risk of travellers being at a point in infection where they could pass the virus on but didn’t feel ill and also tested negative.
UK TO DEMAND NEGATIVE TEST RESULT PROOF FROM TRAVELLERS
Travellers arriving in the UK will be made to present negative PCR or lateral flow Covid tests as proof that they do not have coronavirus from next week.
Grant Shapps has said nobody will be able to depart for Britain by plane, train or ferry unless they present a ‘recognised’ test result at check-in along with a valid passport and visa if required. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also adopt the measure.
Mr Shapps told the BBC: ‘They can be different types of tests – your viewers will have heard of PCR tests perhaps, but there are also lateral flow tests and lab tests.
‘The important thing is that it is up to a certain specification. Then people take that test and as long as it is negative, then they can fly. But they can’t board the plan for example without having that negative test.’
PCR tests can take longer because they are sent off to a lab to check for Covid, with some critics saying 72 hours could be too tight. Rapid ‘lateral flow’ tests can be turned around in minutes, but missed cases and false positives are more common.