Scientists: Vaccine must not be an excuse to ‘ease up’ on control measures

People wearing face masks walking along Westminster Bridge
People wearing face masks walking along Westminster Bridge (PA Wire)
16:30pm, Fri 13 Nov 2020
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The prospect of an effective vaccine must not be used as an excuse to “ease up” on efforts to control transmission of the virus, scientists have said.

The Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), chaired by former Government chief scientific adviser Sir David King, said full transparency is essential to safeguard public confidence.

It called for full trial data on the vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTech to be made available as soon as possible.

Patient receiving a vaccine (PA Wire)

A statement released by the group said the vaccine must be delivered by the public sector “to ensure efficiency and equity”.

Independent Sage agrees with the strategy of prioritising older age groups, those in residential care settings, care workers and NHS frontline staff.

But it also recommends that communities with the highest incidence of infection and most vulnerability to disease  – areas of high deprivation, overcrowded housing and a high proportion of black and ethnic minority residents – should be given priority when rolling out vaccination.

In its statement on vaccination, Independent Sage said: “We must be careful not to ease up on our efforts to control the transmission of the virus across the UK just because the deployment of an effective vaccine is in sight.

“Rather we should continue to seek improvements in the whole process of find, test, trace, isolate and support.

“Similarly, social distancing and hand and surface hygiene remain priorities and we continue to urge the government to reinstate the two-metre social distancing rule.

“The more that Covid-19 is under control the easier it will be to organise and implement a successful and effective vaccination campaign.”

It should go to the places and to the people that need it most, and it should go to them first

Independent Sage member Professor Gabriel Scally is the president of the epidemiology & public health section at the Royal Society of Medicine.

He said: “We also feel that in discussions of the prioritisation of the vaccine – where it is being rolled out – when it goes to the local level, it should be used first in the communities where the incidence of infection is highest and where the vulnerability of the population is highest as well.

“And it’s really important that that happens.

“One of the reasons why is because we know from the data that came from Public Health England about the Manchester area… that at the end of the last lockdown, the communities that still had the virus freely circulating were those that had the highest deprivation level, had the highest levels of overcrowding and the highest levels of people from black and minority ethnic communities.

“So it is really important that – given the vaccine will flow at a steady pace we hope – that it should go to the places and to the people that need it most, and it should go to them first.”

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