THE UK's June 21 lockdown lift is "back on" – after "astounding" tests proved vaccines DO work against the Indian variant.
After weeks of worry, the country looks to be back on track as findings showed Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines both give a high level of protection after two doses.
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Pfizer was 88 per cent effective after two jabs while AstraZeneca proved 60 per cent effective.
Both vaccines were 33 per cent effective against symptomatic disease from the Indian variant three weeks after the first dose, compared with about 50 per cent against the Kent strain.
Professor Susan Hopkins, PHE's Covid-19 strategic response director, said the data trend was "quite clear" and heading in the "right direction".
This morning Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, confirmed it's "looking good" for the final stage of the roadmap.
And Harries was backed by Home Secretary Priti Patel who said: "The data is positive in terms of where we are – look at the vaccine information that has been published today about the level of protection against specific variants."
It brings fresh hope for the full unlocking next month, after the variant's emergence cast doubt on the roadmap.
But now we know, while it's still possible to catch the virus even ifvaccinated, the jabs will be effective in stopping hospitalisations and deaths.
This is a positive sign for the UK – with hopes we are on track for the day of freedom on June 21 when all restrictions are expected to be dropped.
Some 22 million Brits have had both jabs and the study reveals both are effective against the main symptoms such as a cough, a loss of smell and taste or a temperature.
Professor Adam Finn, Professor of Paediatrics, University of Bristol, said: “These important data from PHE give us a first look at how the effectiveness of the two vaccines we have used the most so far holds up against the B1.617.2 variant that is beginning to circulate in the UK.
"Overall the results are encouraging in that the vaccines are continuing to provide useful protection.
"It is also important to appreciate that these results relate to symptomatic infection, most of which will have been mild.
"It remains the strong expectation that both vaccines will continue to provide a high level of protection against severe disease, especially after the second dose.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed the “groundbreaking” development and added: “We can now be confident that over 20 million people have significant protection against this variant.”
Dr Mary Ramsay, PHE Head of Immunisation, said: “It’s vital to get both doses to gain maximum protection against all variants.”
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi also told the Mail on Sunday: "The vaccines offer protections against the dominant Kent variant. What Porton Down are now saying is that the double dose does the same thing against the Indian variant.
"The important message is to get your second vaccine, because if we
can get people double-vaccinated rapidly then this is going to be manageable."
The PHE research, from April 5 to May 16, involved 1,054 people with the Indian variant.
It also found Pfizer 93 per cent effective and AstraZeneca 66 per cent against the Kent variant.
New data from PHE shows there have been at least 2,889 cases of the Indian variant recorded in England from February 1 this year to May 18.
Of those, 104 cases resulted in a visit to a hospital emergency department, 31 required an overnight hospital admission and six resulted in a death.
The most common strain in England, according to the data, is the Kent variant, with 132,082 cases recorded over the same period.
Some 1,569 people have died with the variant, while 2,011 cases resulted in an overnight hospital admission and 5,238 required a visit to a hospital emergency department.
PHE said the difference in the effectiveness between the vaccines may be due to the AstraZeneca second dose being rolled out later than the Pfizer vaccine.
Data also shows it takes longer for the AstraZeneca jab to reach maximum effectiveness.
But asked about how the data could affect the easing of restrictions from June 21, Prof Hopkins said it was "too early to say".
She said: "One week post the last restriction lifting, we will be monitoring it very carefully."
Separate analysis by PHE indicates that the vaccination programme has so far prevented 13,000 deaths and about 39,100 hospital admissions in older people in England, up to May 9.
Latest figures show that more than 50 million doses of coronavirus vaccine have now been given in England.
A total of 50,246,402 Covid-19 vaccinations took place between December 8 and May 21, according to NHS England data, including first and second doses.
Meanwhile, the Army was yesterday busy posting leaflets through letterboxes in Bolton, where the Indian variant is rife, about surge testing.
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