We’ve known from the data from phase three trials that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines have good efficacy against symptomatic cases of Covid-19. The data also hinted at near 100 per cent efficacy against serious illness, although the limited numbers of participants made it hard to be sure.
This morning, however, comes real world data showing the vaccines have all but eliminated hospitalisations. According to figures obtained by the Daily Telegraph, 74,405 people were admitted to hospitals across the UK between September 2020 and March 2021. Of these, just 32 were people who had received a vaccine at least three weeks earlier. The figures don't reveal whether or not there were any deaths.
The Prime Minister warned again last night that government scientists are expecting a third wave of Covid cases as lockdown is eased and people start to mix more. But this morning’s figures do rather beg the question: how much do cases matter if serious illness has been all but eliminated? The whole justification for lockdowns and other severe restrictions was that failing to act could result in tens of thousands of deaths – up to 500,000 in the case of the Imperial College paper of 16 March last year, which convinced the government to change tack and led to the first lockdown.
If deaths, and indeed serious illness, are largely taken out of the picture it is much harder to justify any remaining restrictions on day-to-day life. Trying to argue that continued restrictions are necessary in order to save people from developing mild cases of ‘long covid’ – which don’t typically require hospitalisation – is a lot tougher. We do, after all, suffer up to 20,000 deaths a year from flu, a toll which has never previously inspired a government to introduce anything resembling social distancing.
Perhaps this is why the government has so far resisted publishing the full data on cases, hospitalisations and deaths among people who have been vaccinated – something which Tony Blair asked for this morning. But as the former Prime Minister argued, releasing such data would reassure people about how effective the vaccines are, and improve the already-high uptake.
Blair can count among his achievements in office the Freedom of Information Act, which – although he later suggested he regretted it – has been responsible for putting huge amounts of data into the public domain which would otherwise have been withheld. The present government would do well to take Blair’s advice in this case – and make full datasets on infections, hospitalisations and deaths among vaccinated people before the information is winkled out of it.