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JEREMY HUNT: Fire up the boosters… or risk a catastrophe 

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As fall arrives, the picture on the Covid front looks troubled. The infection rate remains high and the number of hospitalizations and deaths from the virus is creeping up.

On one day this week, the total number of Covid deaths reached 207, the first time since March the 200 mark has been crossed.

Against this background, a major priority for the government should be to avoid another lockdown. So soon after the return to normalcy this summer, reintroducing draconian controls would be a disaster, wrecking the economy, wrecking businesses, costing the treasury a fortune, undermining mental health and harming education.

It is also not likely that the public would show the same levels of compliance as they did with the first lockdowns. Explosive unrest of the kind now hitting Australia – where a crackdown has sparked widespread resistance – could be repeated here.

What Britain urgently needs is to give a new impetus to the vaccine program by providing the adult population with booster shots (stock image)

But there is an alternative to social restrictions. What Britain urgently needs is to give renewed impetus to the vaccine program by providing the adult population with booster shots.

Without taking away any liberties, such policies would increase public protection and provide a powerful shield against the deadly spread of the disease.

Since its inception in December last year, the vaccine program has been a great success. It is estimated to have saved more than 100,000 lives, reduced hospital admissions and eased pressure on the NHS.

But recently, two problems have emerged. The first lies in Covid’s ability to mutate, leading to more transmissible variants like the Delta. The second is that over time, the effectiveness of each injection decreases, even for people who have received two doses.

Last week, the respected Zoe study, conducted by King’s College London, published a report that clearly spelled out this reality.

According to the study’s findings, the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine dropped from 87 to 74 percent in six months, while for the AstraZeneca shot it dropped from 77 to 67 percent.

Since its inception in December last year, the vaccine program has been a great success.  It is estimated to have saved over 100,000 lives, reduced hospital admissions and eased pressure on the NHS (stock image)

Since its inception in December last year, the vaccine program has been a great success. It is estimated to have saved over 100,000 lives, reduced hospital admissions and eased pressure on the NHS (stock image)

Professor Tim Spector, who is responsible for the Zoe project, warns that in the worst case scenario this winter, the effectiveness for older and frail people could fall below 50 percent. “We urgently need to make plans for vaccine boosters,” he says.

As the UK’s vaccine program peaked six months ago, now is the time to act.

That lesson is graphically reinforced by the experience of Israel, with more than 80 percent of the population being double vaccinated, an even higher level than here. But over the summer, Israel saw an exponential increase in infections and hospitalizations.

The Israeli government responded with a massive program of booster shots, starting with the most vulnerable. The effect was immediate, with the growth of infections suddenly slowing down. The latest Israeli data shows that people over 60 who received a third dose are now half as likely to be hospitalized as those who have been double vaccinated.

That highlights the need for us to act now, without hesitation or delay.

In Britain, every week is crucial to avoid a winter catastrophe. Some experts, such as Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, have argued that the delay in imposing the first lockdown in March 2020 has significantly exacerbated the Covid death toll.

But recently, two problems have emerged.  The first lies in Covid's ability to mutate, leading to more transmissible variants like the Delta.  The second is that over time, the effectiveness of each injection decreases, even for people who have received two doses (stock image)

But recently, two problems have emerged. The first lies in Covid’s ability to mutate, leading to more transmissible variants like the Delta. The second is that over time, the effectiveness of each injection decreases, even for people who have received two doses (stock image)

Given the scientific evidence we now have, the same hesitation cannot be repeated about boosters, especially as the NHS already has contingency plans to administer 32 million of them and is already offering them to 500,000 people with severely suppressed immune systems.

Obviously, boosters work by generating a wave of antibodies. We have the vaccines. So why isn’t the government going ahead with the task? The answer is that ministers are waiting for a final advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), which wants to collect more data before giving approval.

Professor Anthony Harden of the JCVI said in a BBC interview: ‘What we don’t want is to give people a boost and then find out we have a new variant and we can’t give them another boost.’

That’s all good in theory, but the nation now faces a serious practical problem. The only solution is for the government to overcome the hesitation and order the booster program to continue.

Ministers like to say that they ‘follow the science’, but in the end this amounts to a political judgment about the urgent need to protect the citizen. Elected politicians are ultimately responsible for Covid policy.

Absolute certainty may be the aim of scientists, but it is rarely attainable in the political realm. The urgency of the moment requires a quick decision, otherwise I fear we risk another terrible lockdown.

Jeremy Hunt chairs the Health and Social Care Selection Committee and served as Secretary of Health from 2012 to 2018

Headteachers warn JCVI’s decision NOT to give healthy children aged 12 to 15 jabs will cause further chaos in schools

By Sarah Harris for the Daily Mail

Headteachers warned yesterday that it will be harder to guard against ‘educational disruption’ after government advisers ruled out jabs for over-12s.

The Joint Vaccination and Immunization Committee (JCVI) said the virus posed such a low risk to 12- to 15-year-olds that the benefit of a mass rollout would be marginal.

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was “disappointed” by the JCVI’s decision.

Headteachers warned yesterday it will be harder to guard against 'educational disruption' after government advisers ruled out jabs for over-12s (stock image)

Headteachers warned yesterday it will be harder to guard against ‘educational disruption’ after government advisers ruled out jabs for over-12s (stock image)

He said: ‘We understand that this decision was made after an assessment of the risks and with all available evidence, and we respect that decision.

“Nevertheless, the result is that this makes it more difficult in the autumn period and beyond to guard against educational disruption due to transmission of the virus.”

But Mr Barton welcomed the news that “the door appears to have been left open at least partially as the government looks at wider issues, including disruption to schools”.

The UK’s four chief medical officers will consider in the coming week whether vaccinating high school students will have a wider benefit to society.

The Joint Vaccination and Immunization Committee (JCVI) said the virus posed such a low risk to 12- to 15-year-olds that the benefit of a mass rollout would be marginal (stock image)

The Joint Vaccination and Immunization Committee (JCVI) said the virus posed such a low risk to 12- to 15-year-olds that the benefit of a mass rollout would be marginal (stock image)

Additional safety measures in schools will become ‘more important’ if they decide not to agree to the jab, the country’s largest education union warned yesterday.

Kevin Courtney, joint secretary general of the National Education Union, said: “Unfortunately, by removing so many security measures last school year, without replacing them with others, the government has left schools open to another surge in cases. children and staff miss school if they test positive.’

The National Association of Head Teachers also called on ministers to improve ventilation in schools.

General Secretary Paul Whiteman said: “Now that the decision has been made not to vaccinate younger teens, ventilation remains a critical part of schools’ efforts to maintain a safe working and learning environment.”

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