Mar 29, 2021
Boris Johnson Press Conference on Plans for More UK-made Vaccines: Transcript
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans for more UK-made vaccines in a March 29, 2021 Downing Street coronavirus briefing. Read the full transcript here.
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Boris Johnson: (00:08)
Good afternoon and welcome to this press conference on what has been a big day for many of us with the first chance to see friends and family outdoors, whether it’s six people or two households. And I want to congratulate the members of [inaudible 00:00:23] cycling club in Derbyshire that set off at midnight, the swimmers who broached the chilly waters of the Hillingdon light out at the crack of Dawn. And more than anything, I know how much it will have meant to millions of people to have joined someone else for a cup of tea in the garden. And I must stress that it’s only because of months of sacrifice and effort that we can take this small step towards freedom today, and we must proceed with caution. It’s great to see that yesterday we recorded the lowest number of new infections for six months, deaths and hospital admissions across the UK are continuing to fall.
Boris Johnson: (01:04)
But that wave is still rising across the channel, and it’s inevitable, as we advance on this roadmap, that there will be more infections and unavoidably, more hospitalizations, and sadly, more deaths. So what we need to do is to continue flat-out to build the immunity of our population, build our defenses against that wave when it comes. And now that we have vaccinated more than 30 million adults across the United Kingdom, it’s more vital than ever that we protect the most vulnerable. The evidence seems pretty clear, that vaccinating the elderly and vulnerable has helped to drive down rates of hospitalization and death. And now, we want to reinforce that production with a second dose. So for many people, April will be the second dose month. Please take up your appointment when it’s your turn. And at the same time as we push forwards with our program to offer a vaccination to all adults by the end of July, we’re building up our own long-term UK manufacturing capabilities.
Boris Johnson: (02:19)
I’ve already told you that Novavax, a potentially significant new weapon in our armory against COVID, is going to be made at Fujifilm in the Northeast. And I can today announce that the vaccine task force has reached an agreement with GlaxoSmithKline to finish and bottle this precious fluid also in the Northeast, giving us between 50 and 60 million doses of UK made vaccine, subject to the right approvals from the MHRA. And then, of course, there is one other way we can all build our own individual defenses against COVID and enjoy ourselves at the same time and that is to take more exercise. And so I’m personally thrilled that I will be able to play tennis, for instance. And without being remotely preachy, I do hope that we can take advantage of this moment and the beautiful weather to play sport, to take exercise, to have fun, and build our national resilience in that way too. And remember that outdoors is generally much safer than indoors and the way to continue on our cautious but irreversible roadmap to freedom is to follow the rules and remember hands, face, space, and fresh air.
Boris Johnson: (03:39)
Thanks very much, I’m now going to hand over to Chris for the slides.
Chris Whitty: (03:43)
Thank you, Prime Minister. First slide, please. So the first slide shows the pattern since September of the number of people testing positive for COVID in the UK. And as you can see, this has dropped a long way from the peak in January, although it is now flattening out, and I’ll come on to why that is in a minute. Next slide, please. Fortunately, the number of people in hospital with COVID in the UK is continuing to fall. And as you can see, this is now down to much lower levels than it was last month and the month before that. Next slide, please. And the best news really on this is that the number of deaths of people who had a positive test for COVID in the UK is continuing to fall, and the most recent seven day average is 63 deaths. Next slide, please.
Chris Whitty: (04:45)
And this is partly due to lockdown and a large part of this is due to lockdown, but also partly and increasingly due to the vaccine rollout. And this slide shows the steady increase in the blue bars of people who’ve had their first dose of vaccine, and in the orange at the bottom, those who are having their second dose of the vaccine. And as the Prime Minister says, the number of people having a second dose is going to increase significantly over the next month, and it is essential that people do come for the second dose. Next slide, please.
Chris Whitty: (05:24)
I thought we should show two slides, really just to put a little bit of a detail on this. And the first of these is to compare the age distribution of people who sadly have died from COVID on the left. And what you have is the ages steadily going up from zero to four at the bottom up to 90 at the top. And the red line is the point at which vaccination has reached. So it’s reached down to those who are 50 and above plus people who’ve got preexisting health conditions. The final cases have been found and I really want to stress that anybody who in that group, in those 50 or above, who has not being called for a vaccination, should make contact with a doctor.
Chris Whitty: (06:10)
But, and this is an important but, on the right, what we have is the total number of people who have actually acquired COVID. And as you can see on that, the great majority of people who’ve acquired COVID are actually younger than this. So the majority of transmission is in younger age groups who have not yet been vaccinated, unless people have got preexisting health conditions or they’re a health or social care worker or care for someone who is vulnerable. So we therefore anticipate that as there is gradual unlocking, in the way the Prime Minister has described, it is inevitable that there will be some increase in the number of cases, because the people who are most likely to catch and to transmit COVID are in that younger, unvaccinated group. So the vaccination has had a really big impact on helping to protect against people dying from COVID, although it is not a complete protection, but it will have less impact on transmission because of this age distribution. Next slide, please.
Chris Whitty: (07:19)
The second new point I really just wanted to make, and then Sir Patrick is going to make a point about vaccines, is to say that the bit of the roadmap opening up that has happened so far is opening up schools. And what you can see on this, and I think this is likely to become clearer over the next two weeks, is that there has been a steady decrease in the rates of COVID over the last several weeks in most age groups, but there’s been a flattening and possibly even a slight uptick in transmission amongst people who are children of school-aged. This isn’t a dramatic increase at this point, but this is inevitable that as bits of society open up, there will be some increases in transmission. And we should expect that. That is one of the things we have to anticipate will happen as some opening ups occur. So Patrick just wants to make some additional points on the vaccine.
Sir Patrick Vallance: (08:19)
Thank you. Can I have the next slide, please? So a few points about vaccine, if you look at the left-hand part of this figure in the blue, this is giving an illustration based on the current and recent rates of infection across the community, roughly how many people you’d expect to be in hospital or to be hospitalized over a four week period. So if you take the top age group, in the 25 to 34 age group, out of 100,000 people in the population of that age, over a four week period, roughly seven people would expect to-
Sir Patrick Vallance: (09:03)
… period, roughly seven people you’d expect to be hospitalized. If you go to the next age group, 35 to 44, so you’d have a 100,000 people in the community, over a month, four-week period, you’d expect roughly 14 people, 45 to 54, 21 people, and 55 to 64, 29 people. If you went to higher ages, of course, you get even more. So this just reinforces the point that as people get older, the risk of hospitalization from infection is greater.
Sir Patrick Vallance: (09:38)
Now, if we look at the right-hand side, this tells you what would happen if all of those people were vaccinated. So if everybody were vaccinated, and this is taking a single dose, so it’s giving roughly an 80% protection, you’d find that in the youngest age group there, 25 to 34, instead of having seven people hospitalized over a month, it would be one or maybe two. 35 to 44, instead of it being 14, it would be two, three. As you go to the higher ages, 45 to 54, instead of 21, it would be four. And at the highest age group on this, 55 to 64, it would be roughly six people instead of the 29.
Sir Patrick Vallance: (10:25)
So there are three points I want to make. First is the one that as you get older, there’s a higher risk from this disease, as Chris has also shown. The second is that the vaccines are very effective at reducing hospitalization in everyone who gets them. And so the message is everybody who’s asked to come forward for a vaccine, please get the vaccine. But the third message is that the vaccines are not 100% protective, and this is at the current rates of infection. If the rates were much higher, then obviously the amount of hospitalization would be higher, which reinforces the point that the thing that we all must do is try and keep rates down and be sensible as we unlock and get back to more interaction. Thank you.
Boris Johnson: (11:09)
Thanks very much, Patrick. Thank you, Chris. Let’s go to Beatrice from London.
With restrictions easing, people are slowly being reunited with their families. For those with family abroad, they have not been able to see them for months. Will assimilate easing take place for those with family abroad or will seeing family be incorporated as an exception to international travel, like the exception to travel for business purposes?
Boris Johnson: (11:38)
Beatrice, thanks very much. I think that the most important thing that we’ve got to do right now as we continue to immunize great numbers of people in this country is protect our country in so far as we can. It’s never going to be perfect, but do as much as we can to prevent the virus coming back in from abroad, and new variants are coming in from abroad. So the rules about what you can do, what people can do to see their families abroad will be governed entirely by the rules that cover travel abroad and people coming from abroad.
Boris Johnson: (12:14)
So at the moment, as you know, it’s still forbidden to travel. We’ll be saying a bit more on April the fifth about what the Global Travel Task Force has come up with. And clearly the moment, it is there are lots of countries that are on a red list. 35 countries are on a red list where we have very stringent measures in place for them. For people arriving from those countries have to go immediately into hotel quarantine. And if you’re coming from anywhere else, you also face pretty tough quarantine rules. So Beatrice, we will be saying more about seeing family abroad and travel abroad, but it won’t be until at least April the fifth. Anybody want to say any more on that? Thanks Beatrice. Let’s go to Julia from Margate.
Boris Johnson: (13:14)
Julia asks, “Myself and my husband had our first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and are due to have our second dose at the end of April. Will this be impacted by the recent shortage of supplies and what does the government plan to do about it?”
Boris Johnson: (13:26)
Well, Julia, I think I can answer that question very briefly and succinctly by saying that there isn’t any need to worry about a shortage of Pfizer for the second doses, as far as we can see at the moment. And we’re going to continue to roll that out and supply that. And as I said, April is going to be the second dose month. Very important everybody gets their second dose.
Boris Johnson: (13:53)
Hugh Pitman from the BBC.
Hugh Pitman: (13:57)
Thank you very much, Prime Minister. Isn’t there a danger of mixed messaging when you talk both about a roadmap to freedom and getting back towards normal life, but also the need to be cautious because of cases rising in some parts of Europe? And a question for Professor Witty and Sir Patrick Valence. How concerned are you about what’s happening in some European countries with cases and what that might mean for the UK? And have you given your approval to the next stage of easing on April the 12th, the opening of outdoor hospitality and non-essential retail and so on?
Boris Johnson: (14:30)
Well, thanks very much, Hugh, and you’re absolutely right that we’re pleased to be able to have some measure of relaxation today. It is important. It is valuable, and it will be prized by people, but also very important to stress that we are continuing to be cautious. And the whole point about the roadmap and the timescale that we’ve got is it gives us a chance to evaluate the data as we go forward. And as for the April, the 12th phase, we’ll be saying more about that in due course. Obviously, same goes for May the 17th, June the 21st. They all depend on the full conditions. But I wonder whether, Principal Battery, you want to say more.
Sir Patrick Vallance: (15:19)
Chris Whitty: (15:19)
Go on Patrick.
Sir Patrick Vallance: (15:20)
Chris Whitty: (15:20)
No, Patrick. You go.
Sir Patrick Vallance: (15:21)
Well, I think when we discuss the gap between stages, the idea was to have five weeks to allow data to be assessed in the fourth week, which is the earliest we think we can get a good handle on what’s happened. And so that’s next week. So that’s when the analysis of the effects of the initial opening of going back to school can be assessed. And at that point, we’ll be able to give the recommendations. So far, as Chris has laid out, everything’s moving in the right direction, but we need to do a formal data analysis next week.
Chris Whitty: (15:54)
In terms of are we concerned about what’s happening in Europe and elsewhere, well, I mean, in those … Anybody would be concerned about any country in the world where rates are going up, because that has a big impact on people’s health and lives. So I think as citizens of the world, we’ve all been concerned about any of those countries.
Chris Whitty: (16:14)
For the UK, essentially there are two risks. There’s always a higher risk. If any country has got a higher rate than you have, then there is a risk of net importation of COVID, but the much bigger risk and the one that we’re all concerned about is the risk of variants of concern. These are COVID variants which might, and I want to stress the word might, have a problem with the vaccine, where the vaccine is less effective against them.
Chris Whitty: (16:40)
And so the main thing we’re concerned about is the risk of importing into the UK variants which could have a reduced effectiveness of the vaccines we’re currently using. Now, in the longterm, there would be ways around that, but in the short term, that is the principle, the thing that’s driving concerns about border issues at this stage.
Chris Whitty: (16:59)
In terms of giving approval, it’s not really for Patrick or me to give approval of things, but certainly we’ve been involved heavily in all the decisions in terms of giving technical advice to ministers.
Boris Johnson: (17:12)
Thanks very much. Hugh Colton, ITV.
Hugh Colton: (17:17)
Thank you. Prime Minister. There’s a great sense of release around the country today with the lifting of some restrictions. Do you worry at all that people might take that too far? And what sort of word of warning would you give people who [inaudible 00:17:33] that way? And for Professor Witty, you showed us a graph of how the reopening of schools more fully created a bit of an uptick. Do you worry at all that today’s relaxations could also eventually cause a bit of an uptick in the numbers of cases? And how well at this point do you think we are protected by the vaccination program as a country?
Boris Johnson: (17:57)
Yes, you’re absolutely right to put the emphasis on caution. The vaccine rollout has been very-
Boris Johnson: (18:03)
… on caution. The vaccine rollouts has been very impressive, and thanks to everybody who’s been involved in it, but what we don’t know is exactly how strong our fortifications now are, how robust our defenses are against another wave. And we’ve seen what’s been happening. That’s why I stress what’s happening with our European friends, because historically at least, there’s been a time lag and then we’ve had a wave ourselves. That’s why I just stress the importance of everybody maintaining the discipline that people have shown for so long and continuing with the cautious but we hope irreversible roadmap that we’ve set out.
Chris Whitty: (18:49)
In terms of the question you asked me, yes, there is a high likelihood that there will be some uptick as a result of the relaxations today, and that was anticipated right from the beginning of trying to lay out where the roadmap would go. And if you think about the graph that I showed, what it shows is that the high proportion of those who will both catch and transmit COVID have not been vaccinated yet, and so I would not anticipate that vaccination will reduce transmission between people in those ages at all at this point in time.
Chris Whitty: (19:24)
But, and this is the big but, the point the prime minister was making and that’s been stressed repeatedly is that if people stick to social distancing rules and they’re outside, the risk of transmission is massively lower than if they are very close together and inside. So provided people are sensible about these, and people throughout the entire COVID pandemic in the UK have really been very sensible, incredibly sort of respectful of sticking to the rules and guidelines. Provided people stick to outdoors and at a distance, if it’s people who are not in their households, the impact in terms of an uptick should be modest, but I think it would not be realistic to think there will be no impact, and that is something we’re all aware of.
Sir Patrick Vallance: (20:12)
The only thing just to add is it’s important to remember as vaccination rolls out that once you’ve been vaccinated, it takes three weeks or so before you get some protection from the vaccine. It’s very important to recognize that even with vaccination, it’s not an instant thing. It takes a time for the immunity to accrue.
Boris Johnson: (20:29)
Brilliant. Thanks. Beth Rigby, Sky News.
Beth Rigby: (20:33)
Thank you. Prime Minister, you’ve asked a lot of the British people over the past year, and now even as that vaccination program’s rolled out in cases are now at their lowest level since last October, you are still hugely restricting our personal lives and our liberties. Do you accept that you are testing the patience of the public, and are you concerned that people will stop listening? And to Professor Whitty, with 30 million adults now having received a job, you said another cave and surge would be met with a wall of vaccinated people. With that in mind, are we really at risk of a third wave, the sort we’re seeing in continental Europe, or can the British people finally begin to relax? And just quickly to Sir Patrick, when will the doses, those 50 to 60 million doses that the prime minister just talked about of the Novavax vaccine, when would they be available?
Boris Johnson: (21:33)
That’s not for me, I didn’t think. Let me go straight back to you, Beth, on that point about asking a lot of people. And yes, of course, I accept that, and I know how much government is asked of the people in the last year, but I also know how magnificently with what incredible patience and fortitude people have responded. And it’s my view, Beth, that overwhelmingly people are determined to continue to do that, and they do understand the need for caution. I think overwhelmingly, people understand that when it comes to this roadmap, the better we stick to it, the more cautious we are, the better the chance we have of making sure that it is indeed irreversible and we’re able to go forward in the way that we want.
Chris Whitty: (22:24)
In terms of the question you asked to me, what Patrick’s slide I think showed is that we do have a kind of a wall of vaccination that we’ll get stronger with the second vaccines, and I want to repeat my emphasis. It is critical people get their second vaccine, but it is not a complete wall. It’s a kind of leaky wall, and therefore there will always be some people who either have chosen not to be vaccinated or where the vaccine has had much less effect. And if we get a small surge, the will be cases of people who have been vaccinated who will have a severe disease, and there’ll be cases of people who are not vaccinated, a much higher proportion, who will get severe disease, and some of those will go on to die.
Chris Whitty: (23:06)
If we get a very big wave, that would obviously lead to a significant impact. So that’s the reason why the prime minister and ministers have been absolutely determined that this is a slow and steady unlocking, looking at data between each step. Because what we’re trying … We accept that with this highly transmissible virus, of course, there will be an increase in transmission as we unlock. Vaccines will help hem it in as we go down the ages, but it’s going to take a while before we’ve got the full protection, and even when we have, there will be some upsurge. The key thing is to keep that rate down and to make sure as many people as possible are vaccinated, in particular the most vulnerable.
Sir Patrick Vallance: (23:50)
And keeping the rate down also stops the likelihood of more variants emerging, so it’s important we keep on top of this. The Novavax question is an operational one about when that’s delivered, and I can’t answer that for you. But what I will say is that Novavax hasn’t been through the regulatory process yet, so it would need to do that as well before anyone can really be sure when that would come.
Boris Johnson: (24:12)
What I can say is that they are already making it at the site in Teesside. They’re already making the vaccine pending MHRA approvals. Jason Groves, Daily Mail.
Jason Groves: (24:29)
Thank you. Professor Whitty, if someone’s had both their vaccine shots as many people now have, why shouldn’t they hug their grandchildren this Easter? Are they not now as safe as they’re going to be for the foreseeable future? And prime minister, you mentioned the encouraging signs on some of the graphs. The death rate now is roundabout where it was when we unlocked indoor socializing last year. If it was good enough to do that last year, why isn’t it good enough to do that this year?
Boris Johnson: (25:03)
Do you want to do hugging first? Who’s doing hugging?
Chris Whitty: (25:06)
I’ll take that on. The thing to understand with vaccines is they provide increasing levels of protection as we go through. The first vaccine provides a high degree of protection. The second vaccine for the same person provides greater protection, but there’s still some vulnerability. This is the point that Patrick’s slide was making. Then, actually having people around someone who has been vaccinated who are themselves vaccinated provides a further level of protection, and then the key thing is keeping the rates right down makes it very unlikely that someone who comes in, even if they have been vaccinated, and so even if they haven’t been vaccinated and certainly if they have will actually have COVID and be able to pass it on. But what we’re trying to do is get to the point where all of those protections are in place, and we are not yet at that stage.
Chris Whitty: (25:55)
We’re getting there steadily the extraordinary rollout by the NHS I think is really remarkable, and that is going through at a real pace, but the great majority of people have not yet had their second vaccine, and if they’re meeting people who are under the age of 50, they will not have had their vaccination unless they actually have a preexisting health condition or are a healthcare worker. I would like to re-stress a point that Patrick made also, which is that people are not immediately protected when they’re vaccinated. And I think it is important for people to remember that there is a period of time, if you’re an older citizen, maybe three weeks or so between the time that you get vaccinated and the time when the protection kicks in. It’ll be good protection, but it won’t be absolutely complete protection.
Boris Johnson: (26:47)
I think that’s an incredibly important point for everybody to remember right now. Jason, I think the answer to your question is really contained in some of the slides that we saw earlier, where already because of the relaxation that we’ve seen, or almost certainly because of the opening of schools again …
Boris Johnson: (27:03)
… almost certainly because of the opening of schools again. You’re starting to see some of those graphs starting to curl a bit like old British rail sandwiches, moving upwards a little bit in the younger groups. And you’ve seen what’s happening on the continent and we’ve seen that happen before. That’s why it’s so vital that we do what we’re doing right now. We continue to fortify the population, roll out the vaccine at the speed that we are. Make sure, as Chris and Patrick say, everybody gets the second dose when they’re asked to come forward, when they’re given their turn. But just make sure that we are cautious in our approach. I think that’s the way to get the results that we want.
Boris Johnson: (27:58)
Let’s go now to Jasmine [inaudible 00:28:01] of the FD.
Thank you. The sport and tourism minister said earlier this morning that police will be able to intervene and fine any law breakers where necessary, but how realistic is that? Will police officers be going around breaking up groups of more than six outside? Do you think that will be appropriate? And are you confident that the rules are clear enough to facilitate a consistent and fair approach to policing across the country?
And secondly, as the number of coronavirus infections grows throughout Europe, why have countries like France not yet been added to the red list? And what is your response, prime minister, to concerns that throughout the pandemic the UK has been slow to secure our borders from cases coming in from abroad? Thank you.
Boris Johnson: (28:45)
Thanks very much, Jasmine. On the first point about the policing, the police has done an absolutely outstanding job throughout this pandemic, and I think they’ve handed out about 70,000 fines, at least, for various breaches of one kind or another. And I make no apology for that. They will continue to do their best, but it depends more than it depends on the police. It depends on general public understanding of what we’ve all got to do. And that in a way has been even more impressive. That’s been the single thing that’s made all this possible.
Boris Johnson: (29:20)
On the imports of new variants from abroad and our border issue, we have one of the toughest regimes in the world. Some European countries, Jasmine, don’t even have, many European countries, don’t even have the hotel quarantine of the kind that we have in the UK. And there are 35 countries already on the red list. We’re looking very closely at what’s going on in France. We keep it under constant review of course. Though, as I’ve explained to people, there is the issue that our trade in medicines and food does depend very much on those short straight. So we have to make sure that we manage the disruption as well. Thank you very much, Jasmine. Let’s go to [Sapphire Slay 00:30:05] of The Evening Standard.
Thank you. Prime minister, you said that you want this unlocking to be irreversible. Can you categorically rule out another full lockdown? And my second question is for professor Chris Whitty. An Evening Standard story today revealed that care home staff in London are the least likely to take up the vaccine. The lowest take up in the whole country is in Lambeth, which is 45% of staff working in homes for the elderly have taken it up. Are you shocked by that figure? And do you think that level offers enough protection for residents?
Boris Johnson: (30:44)
Well Sapphire, I think the answer to your excellent question is yes, but with at least two very important provisos. Yes. If everybody obviously continues to obey the guidance with sufficient caution and we continue to work together to keep the virus under control and get it down in the way that we have. And yes if the vaccine rollout continues and the vaccines continue to be as effective as it looks as though they could be, or it looks as though they are, Sapphire. So those are the two conditions that would have to be satisfied.
Boris Johnson: (31:26)
But I’m hopeful. I think that I don’t see anything in the data right now that would cause us to deviate from the roadmap. But we’ve got to remain humble in the face of nature, and we’ve got to be prepared to do whatever it takes to protect the British public, which has been our approach throughout.
Chris Whitty: (31:52)
And on the question to me, the great majority actually of care home staff nationally have had the vaccine, and as have an even greater proportion of health care staff. I think for those who don’t, I think there are probably three things it’s really important to stress. The first thing is, this vaccine will protect you and your family. And I think it is important that people really understand that this is of … It’s important for everyone, but it’s important for the individual who has the vaccine themselves and those around them. There’s now evidence that if you have a vaccine as a health or social care worker, it’s likely that that is going to provide protection to your family.
Chris Whitty: (32:35)
Second thing is that there is unfortunately some misinformation about vaccines. And the key thing is to go to reliable sources. If you’re hearing stories about vaccines and you’re concerned about them, go to reliable sources. Talk to medical staff who can actually lay out the facts. Because compared to the risk of COVID, the risk of the vaccines is much smaller. And that’s the whole point about all drugs and all vaccines is you’re doing it because the risk of actually not being vaccinated is substantially greater than the risk of being vaccinated.
Chris Whitty: (33:12)
And the third point specifically on care staff, certainly when we’re talking about medical or nursing staff, I’ve said before and I will say very unambiguously, I do consider people who are looking after other people who are very vulnerable, do have a professional responsibility to get vaccinated and to do other things that help protect the people who they’re looking after. It’s not just an issue about vaccination. This is across the board. Vaccination is one of those issues, and so it is important that people view it both for themselves, for their families, but also take their professional responsibility seriously.
Boris Johnson: (33:51)
Brilliant. I think that’s … Anything to add, Patrick? No? Thank you all very much. See you next time.