What Britain should learn from Israel about booster shots

It’s hard to remember a time when politicians have so publicly put pressure on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. Even the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said this week that the booster programme is his ‘absolute priority’ as it will ‘help us to transition the virus from pandemic to endemic status’. So why is the JCVI so against booster jabs in all but the rarest of cases? My understanding is that its thinking has three parts. First, that the UK has not experienced Israel’s waning immunity against infection because we have had a longer gap between doses. Second, the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been widely used here but not

Why we shouldn’t fear a ‘fourth wave’ of Covid

A few weeks ago, as the government was preparing for a great reopening on 21 June, I wrote a cover story for The Spectator with some bad news: a third wave was coming, I argued, and it could be even bigger than the second. It jarred with the mood. Covid cases were falling and a great many people desperately wanted this to be the end of it. My model, the Bristol University PCCF (Predictor Corrector Coronavirus Filter), showed otherwise: the biggest wave could be yet to come. But with a vital difference: hospitalisations and deaths would be much lower than at the beginning of the year when we were largely

Vaccination is pushing England’s population immunity to new heights

England’s population immunity to Coronavirus now stands at almost 39 per cent — a rise of 25 per cent since Christmas. The effects of the vaccination campaign are beginning to show. This is the latest finding of the PCCF model developed at Bristol University, and its results offer important insights into how much progress is being made. Immunity can take four forms, not all of which are officially recorded: Immunity after infection, with antibodies: This can be sampled via antibody tests and covers between 15 and 16 per cent of the population as of mid-January, according to the latest ONS report. Immunity after infection, without antibodies: Antibodies can wane over time, although recent

Is this the key to understanding Covid immunity?

Just how strong an immunity do Covid patients develop after they have acquired the infection and how long does it last? The question is vital to the likely future passage of the pandemic, and to how well vaccines will protect us in the long term. Several studies have suggested there is a sharp decline in antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 over time – a paper from Imperial College’s React study in October, for example, revealed that the proportion of the population showing antibodies to the virus declined from 6 per cent in June to 4.4 per cent in September. The researchers were at pains to emphasise that the presence of antibodies does

Could 30 per cent of Brits have some Covid immunity?

How big is the job of vaccination? The aim is herd immunity, to protect enough people so that the virus starts to run out of people to infect and rates fall. This is expected to happen when between 60 to 80 per cent of the population is protected, so quite a job for the NHS. Until this is achieved, ministers seek to use lockdown as a tool to keep the R below 1. This means the cycle of lockdown and release could be with us for some time, especially in light of the new ‘mutant’ strain of the virus. But are ministers seeing the whole picture? As a professor of

The problem with ‘immunity passports’

Just a few months ago it was not certain that we would find a vaccine for Covid-19. Now, we have three, with potentially more on the way — and the rollout of the Pfizer jab due to begin next week. It’s an extraordinary achievement for the research community, our best hope of restoring normal life and a bloody relief after a year of disappointments. But the government, at least, should beware of geeks bearing gifts. To get us to herd immunity, they have to persuade somewhere between 60 per cent to 90 per cent of us to get vaccinated. You can see Boris Johnson’s problem. If he makes vaccination completely

How to win over vaccine sceptics

We have a vaccine. In fact, we have three — and more are on the way. While we still need to scrutinise the full data from the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca trials, the initial reports are stunning: vaccines that in some cases exceed 90 per cent effectiveness, and might be ready within weeks. Previous surveys showed a big appetite for the vaccine, but more recent ones are concerning. According to YouGov, only 67 per cent of British people say they’d be ‘likely’ to get the Pfizer virus, with 21 per cent saying they’d be ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ unlikely to. Other polls also find that scepticism towards the vaccine is increasing.

Where did ‘herd immunity’ come from?

‘It was the pyres,’ said my husband. He meant the effect of television pictures of cattle, hooves silhouetted against the sky, burnt during the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001. It was eradicated by culling six million beasts, not by vaccination producing herd immunity. In Shropshire, stone memorials survive to the outbreak of rinderpest (like Covid-19 a viral disease) of 1865-67. One outbreak ‘swept 54 head off this farm’ near Market Drayton. ‘They died without remedy and here lie. “Shall we receive good from God and not evil?” Job 2:10.’ Nationally, 289,581 died. Britain had met the three big 18th-century cattle plagues by paying farmers to slaughter sick animals quickly, a policy

Our immune system is the pandemic’s biggest mystery

What have we been witnessing these past few months? A worldwide crisis caused by the arrival of a new virus of exceptional virulence — or a crisis of awareness, in which incomplete information led to a wildly disproportionate reaction? Have lockdowns, face coverings and the rest saved millions of lives worldwide? Or have they had relatively little effect on the course of the pandemic, and ended up causing more harm than good? And why, so far, is Britain not seeing the surge of Covid-19 infections reported in Spain and France? What are we missing? We still know a lot less about Covid-19, and about viruses in general, than you might

Immunity to coronavirus may be far more widespread than thought

Two weeks ago I wrote here about a study by the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California, which found that between 40 and 60 per cent of people who had never been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 – the virus which causes Covid 19 – nevertheless seemed to develop an immune response to the disease in their T Cells. They appeared to have a cross-reactive immunity which had been gained through exposure to other coronaviruses – those which cause the common cold. Now comes another study providing more evidence of the same phenomenon from a team at the Emerging Infectious Diseases Program from Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. Nine of 18

Covid has all but left London. Why?

My partner, Julian, hovered at my shoulder on Friday as I tapped out my Times Saturday column (about travel quarantine). I’d slipped in a paragraph with my own thoughts about the transmission of Covid-19. ‘Cut the lot,’ he said. ‘You’re not an epidemiologist. Nobody’s interested in your theories.’ This was probably good advice so I put my own thoughts on hold. Until now. Because something’s still nagging me. I know I’m not an epidemiologist, but silences speak loud in science, and from those experts put up for media interview I notice a curious silence — a silence on what feels like a most important report and, from their interviewers, a