Carl Heneghan et al

The vaccines worked. We can safely lift lockdown

An open letter on why Covid restrictions must end in June

Jeff J Mitchell - Pool /Getty Images

We are writing as scientists and scholars concerned about the confused and contradictory directions currently being promoted in the management of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are being told simultaneously that we have successful vaccines and that major restrictions on everyday life must continue indefinitely. Both propositions cannot be true. We need to give more weight to the data on the actual success of the vaccines and less to theoretical risks of vaccine escape and/or surge in a largely vaccinated population. It is time to reassess where we are and where we go next.

Phase One of the Covid-19 vaccination programme will shortly be completed, with every vulnerable adult in the UK having been offered two injections. It is clear that the vaccines are fully delivering on the promise of the clinical trials. We can be very confident that they will reduce Covid deaths by around 98 per cent and serious illness by 80-85 per cent. This level of protection against serious illness seems not to be significantly affected by any of the variants that have been observed, because of the breadth of T-cell responses. There are sound evolutionary reasons why this is unlikely to change in the near future with new variants. In short, the level of population immunity we have now achieved by targeted vaccination and natural infection means that the SARS-Cov-2 virus in the UK has become demonstrably less fatal than seasonal influenza viruses.

Given this, it is time to recognize that, in our substantially vaccinated population, Covid-19 will take its place among the 30 or so respiratory viral diseases with which humans have historically co-existed. This has been explicitly accepted in a number of recent statements by the Chief Medical Officer. For most vaccinated and other low-risk people, Covid-19 is now a mild endemic infection, likely to recur in seasonal waves which renew immunity without significantly stressing the NHS.

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