Apr 28, 2021
UK Downing Street Coronavirus Press Conference with Matt Hancock Transcript April 28
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock held a coronavirus press conference on April 28, 2021. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Matt Hancock: (00:00)
… world. And I’ll start by talking about events around the world. We’ve all seen the harrowing pictures of what’s happening in India. And I think it pains each one of us who’s seeing those scenes, not least because the bonds between our countries are so strong and there are ties of family and a friendship. I’ve been in constant contact with my Indian counterpart. And we worked over the weekend to put together our first package of support, ventilators and oxygen concentrators. More supplies will be arriving later this week. I’ve also been working with the health minister for Northern Ireland, Robin Swann, to donate large scale oxygen production equipment from Northern Ireland capable of producing over 1000 liters of oxygen per minute, which is one of the main needs of the people of India. And I’d like to thank Robin for the incredible hard work he’s done in getting this to the position it is so that we can get it sent to India where it can produce that oxygen that’s so badly needed.
Matt Hancock: (01:09)
Everyone across this whole United Kingdom stands side-by-side with the people of India in these troubled times, because in this battle against coronavirus, we’re all on the same side. This fight is a global fight. And when other nations face their hour of need as we faced our hour of need here at home, we’ll be there. The situation in India is a stark reminder that this isn’t over yet. It shows how important it is that we are vigilant here at home. And Professor Van-Tam will take us through the data in a moment. But just before we do, I want to give an update on the vaccination program. This morning, we published new data giving the first concrete evidence of how much vaccines reduced transmission within households. We’ve seen already that a vaccine reduces your chances of catching COVID by around two thirds. This new data looked at people who tested positive after having received one dose of the vaccine and found that they were up to 50% less likely to pass on the disease to someone else in their household.
Matt Hancock: (02:36)
And we’re looking at whether the second dose gives an even bigger effect. We know that indoor settings have the highest risk of transmission. So these results are really encouraging in terms of the impact of the vaccine on reducing transmission. We’re finding out more and more about the different layers of protection you get from a vaccine and how it’s impacting in the real world. In summary, we think that you get around two thirds protection from against catching the disease at all, around four-fifths reduction in your likelihood of ending up in hospital and around 85% protection from dying of COVID. That’s the protection you get from one dose. And in addition to all that, you’re up to half as likely to pass it on to somebody else that you live with. We expect the benefits to be even greater after two doses, and we’re monitoring that carefully. But what this means is the evidence is stacking up that the vaccine protects you, it protects your loved ones, and it is the way out of this pandemic.
Matt Hancock: (03:50)
The overall effectiveness of the vaccination program comes from just two things. One, how effective the vaccine is. That’s the science, if you like. And two, how many people get the jabs. And that of course is on all of us. And I just want to turn to the second of those for a moment as well. This chart, if we could have the first animation, please. This shows the propulsion of people who’ve had the jab according to age group. And you can see that the green bars represent the people who’ve had one dose and the blue represent people who’ve had two. And they are growing over time as the vaccination program reaches more and more people who are younger and younger. And as you can see across the UK uptake of the first dose amongst the over 50s is phenomenally high at over 95% and is rising sharply in people in their late 40s who’ve been now able to receive the vaccine for a couple of weeks.
Matt Hancock: (04:58)
This is great progress, and it’s something we can all celebrate because we all have a part to play in this. And I’m delighted that we’ve been able to offer the vaccine now to even more people. So anyone who is 42 or older can now come forward and get the jab. I’m delighted about this because it shows the great progress that we’re making and I’m also delighted because it means I can get my jab too. Just like every other 42 year old and 43 year old, I got a text from the NHS yesterday. I went online. I booked it for myself. It takes less than a minute, and I’m looking forward to getting my jab first thing tomorrow morning. In the words of our new campaign, every vaccination brings us hope. So we’ve looked at the effectiveness of the vaccine and we’ve looked at the take-up of the vaccine, now I want to turn to the combination of the two. What I’m about to show you is not how many people have had the job, but how many people have got the antibodies that make the jab effective. These antibodies that protect you from coronavirus. This isn’t a measure of the vaccination program directly. This is a measure of the protection that we have collectively built up in people right across the country. If we can have the second chart, please. This data released today by the Office for National Statistics is from a national survey where they visit over 20,000 people and they actually measure the antibodies in people’s bloodstreams. The blue area shows the proportion of people who have COVID-19 antibodies. As you can see in the older age groups, those who got vaccinated first, they are much more likely to have COVID-19 antibodies.
Matt Hancock: (06:59)
So more and more people are getting protection. And now seven in 10 adults have protective COVID antibodies. This is the vaccination program in action. And it makes me so proud of what we’ve done. We have working on the vaccine program for more than a year now. There’s a massive team to it. And I’m very, very grateful to them all. But the thing that makes me proudest is how when the call came, the whole nation who’s been asked has effectively stepped forward. Because this vaccination program depends, yes, on the effectiveness of the science. And that is crucial. But it depends on everybody stepping forward. The vaccine is helping us to bring back our freedom and we must protect this progress. The biggest risk to that progress is the risk posed by a new variant. So we’re working on our plans for booster shots too. And this is the final thing I want to talk about. To keep us safe and free here while we get this disease under control across the whole world, we have been working on a program of booster shots, again, for over a year now.
Matt Hancock: (08:22)
And we’ve backed some of the only clinical trials in the world looking specifically at booster shots. I’m delighted to be able to tell you that we’ve secured a further 60 million doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine that will be used alongside others as part of our booster shot program later this year. And that is all about protecting the progress that we’ve made. We have a clear route out of this crisis, but this is no time for complacency. It’s a time for caution so we can keep the virus under control while we take the steps safely back to normal life. So please remember that the basics of hands, face, space, and fresh air and crucially, if, like me, you get the call, join me and get the jab. I’d now like to hand over to Professor Van-Tam to talk through the latest data, and then Dr. Kanani to talk through some of the detailed data about that extraordinarily high take-up of the vaccine. Professor.
Prof. Van-Tam: (09:31)
Thank you, secretary of state. Good afternoon. I’m going to just spend the first few minutes going through four data slides which show you where we are in the state of play in the UK at the moment. And then on the fifth slide, I will just talk in a little more detail about the new data that had been published in pre-print form by scientific colleagues from Public Health England this morning, and relating to vaccine related reductions in transmission inside households. First slide, please. So these slides are familiar. It’s a little while since I’ve presented them to you. But you can see this is an array of numbers of people testing positive for COVID-19 in the UK from 1st of September on the left through to late April on the right. Very visible indeed is that very large third wave that we had peaking in mid January.
Prof. Van-Tam: (10:33)
And you can see now that we are really in very low levels that are comparable to where we were in September last year. We’re running as a typical seven day average, just over 2000 people testing positive per day. My sense is that probably we are at or close to the bottom at the moment in terms of this level of disease in the UK. Next slide, please. On slide number two, it’s the same timescale, but this time I’m arraying the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 in the UK. And again, the pattern is the same. This very large and really quite serious third wave that we had. And now we are, I think, close to the bottom, but probably we will find there’s a little further to run in terms of reductions in the total number of people in hospital in the UK with COVID. And on the 26th of April, that was 1,634 people.
Prof. Van-Tam: (11:41)
Next slide, please. Turning now, unfortunately, to deaths. You can see the size of the third peak in the third wave in the UK compared with the first peak high seven day rolling average. That’s that horizontal blue line that goes midway across the chart. But thankfully you can see that we are now down, in the last seven days, to an average of 22 deaths per day related to COVID. Still, regrettable of course, in terms of deaths that we wish weren’t happening, but obviously in a very different place to where we were in those dark first few weeks of 2021. Next slide, please. Now, you’ll notice here that and before I even talk about the data, I want to talk about the timescales along the bottom. You can see that this slide is arrayed from the 10th of January until late April. And it’s an array of the number of people who have received a vaccination for COVID in the UK.
Prof. Van-Tam: (12:51)
So it’s essentially a static representation of the movie that you sure you saw just a while ago. But importantly, I want to draw your attention to where the peak of the third wave would appear on this slide. And it would appear, shall we say, around the 24th of January, which is visible to you on there. And you can see at that point, we didn’t really have very many people vaccinated at all. And so I have to say it, and it is only epidemiologically true to say it that most of the steady decline we have seen, the disappearance of our third wave has been down to the efforts of the British people in following lockdown. Now, the vaccine has undoubtedly helped in the later stages and there’s good evidence that the death rate in the elderly has dropped faster than it has in the younger age groups and it’s dropped faster than it did in the second wave.
Prof. Van-Tam: (13:54)
And that is undoubtedly a vaccine effect. But what is really important about these vaccines and about the vaccine roll out that it really is the way out of getting into trouble of the same size and magnitude ever again. And that’s why it’s important that this job must get finished. Next slide, please. And in terms of finishing the job, we now have, I think, some quite solid data on the way in which vaccine can cut household transmission. Now, this was a study called the Hosted Study from Public Health England colleagues. And the estimates… It’s a very big study. 365,000 households, over a million contacts within those households. And the study was about vaccinated people who in spite of the one dose of vaccine still got COVID symptoms and still tested positive. In other words, you do get some people who get COVID even though they’ve had one dose of vaccine.
Prof. Van-Tam: (15:10)
But this study also looked at their un-vaccinated household contacts and could show that with both vaccines, you can see the range of the range of estimates on these blue circles. That there is a substantial reduction in creating further cases who also had symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus in those households. The point estimate for AZ is 38% and the point estimate for Pfizer is 49%. But really those ranges are rather more important illustrating even despite that massive size of the study, the uncertainties in the data, and the fact that both are doing an extremely good job in reducing household-
Prof. Van-Tam: (16:03)
Doing an extremely good job in reducing household transmission. And that’s after one dose, so I do expect these results to improve after two doses. And the other thing I should say is that the estimates are probably conservative. Because if you get two members of a household who actually both pickup coronavirus from the same visitor, at the door, or the same place they went to, wherever it was, and their incubation periods are different, one had a short incubation period, they’re the index case, and one, the household contact had a longer incubation period, then actually, you would say that the second one was a contact of the first and that transmission had occurred between them. But in actual fact, they may have got it from the same place in the first instance. So there will be some of that in the study. And therefore, I think these are quite cautious estimates of how important these vaccines are going to be in reducing transmission. And remember that our second dose should improve the situation further. I’m going to stop there. Thank you, Secretary of State.
Matt Hancock: (17:20)
Thank you very much, Professor Vantam. I’m now going to turn to Dr. Canani.
Dr. Canani: (17:23)
Thank you. So let me begin by giving my thanks, my heartfelt thanks to colleagues around the country who are still absolutely knocking it out of the park making sure that people are getting protected. I want to congratulate particularly Satya and her team from Medway who’ve achieved 50,000 vaccinations this week, and Sarah and her team from Harrogate and [Rural 00:17:46] who have achieved 100,000 vaccines given this week as well, really quite phenomenal. And in the last week, since I was last here, the NHS in England has managed to vaccinate 3.3 million people with a first or second dose. So that [inaudible 00:18:04] half million people in England who have had their first dose, and over 11.4 million people who have had their second. And that second dose, as you heard, is crucial. That is where we are getting protection. But we still have to follow social distancing guidance and that’s really key. But that means that we have now vaccinated, nearly two thirds of the adult population in England, and more than a quarter of people have been fully vaccinated.
Dr. Canani: (18:35)
As I said, it’s important that we all keep following national advice to reduce transmission, hospital admissions, and deaths from COVID-19, but I’m pleased and I’m encouraged to see that we’re keeping up the momentum and that we’re on track in the biggest vaccination program that the NHS has ever coordinated. I’m particularly proud, the Secretary of State mentioned that we opened our booking lines to 44 year olds on Monday and 43 and 42 year olds yesterday. Nearly three quarters of a million people book their appointments from Monday alone. So that is nearly 250 appointments booked a minute, or around 15,000 an hour. It’s incredible progress. And we’ll continue to maintain that as far as supplies allow. So my message to everyone watching is the same as last week. If you’re invited to get a vaccine, whether it’s your first or second dose, please come forward. If you need to get a test or you’re asked to get a test, please come forward. And if you have a health concern, please also come forward, because your NHS is still there for you. Thank you.
Matt Hancock: (19:49)
Thank you very much, Dr. Canani. We will now go into questions from the public before some questions from journalists. And the first question from a member of the public is from Rachel in Darby by video.
My question is when will we be able to take our care home relatives outside for a walk in the fresh air, without them having to self isolate on their return? It’s been almost 14 months since my mom has been able to leave the premises and her condition has deteriorated. She’s now also on antidepressants. Please help us find a safe way for this to happen very soon. Thank you.
Matt Hancock: (20:32)
Thank you, Rachel. It’s an incredibly important question and we’re working on it right now. And in fact, I had a meeting on this yesterday to make sure that we can get the rules right, so that people can safely leave a care home and come back without bringing coronavirus back into the home. And especially now that vaccinations have taken place amongst residents, the vast, vast majority have now had two doses, and amongst staff, vaccination rates are rising as well, and also because the rates of coronavirus are so much lower in the community. So I hope that we can have some good news for you soon, Rachel. You’ll understand, given the history, why it’s so important that we have protective rules for those who live in care homes. They are amongst the most vulnerable to COVID. But we also know that there are risks and health consequences of not having visitors or not allowing care home residents to visit out without, as you say, having then to isolate within the home when they come back. So I hope some good news for you soon. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Prof. Van-Tam: (21:51)
I only really want to echo what the Secretary of State has said that this is desperately important for people’s mental health and desperately important that we do restore that normality for people who live in residential care, but it has to be done carefully. And the additional science factor is that we still need further data to understand with a little more clarity whether these vaccines work as well in the extremely frail elderly as they do in the fit and younger adult. And we need to know if they work as well in patients who are clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable with underlying conditions. Those data are going to take a little while longer to give us real clarity and they will help us pull this picture together, so that I hope we can move with maximum safe speed to get back to normal.
Matt Hancock: (22:54)
Thanks very much. The next question is from Melanie in Derbyshire by text. And Melanie asks: during the pandemic, the UK has emerged as a powerhouse of biomedical research, innovation, and development. What plans does the government have to continue this beyond COVID and make the UK a global leader in this area? Melanie, this is an incredibly important question. And in fact, after being vaccinated tomorrow morning, I’m then going to give a speech on precisely this topic. So you’ve asked at a very good moment. The truth is, in my view, and I’ll ask the scientific view in a moment, the truth is that in this pandemic, the UK life sciences and biomedical research have given a huge amount to the world. Probably our greatest contribution to saving lives and tackling this pandemic around the world is the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, and in particular, the decision to ensure that it’s provided at cost without any charge for profit or intellectual property. It’s been a huge and heroic effort. And I’m very grateful to the team at Oxford and the team at AstraZeneca who’ve done an absolutely amazing job of making this happen.
Matt Hancock: (24:20)
And then the capabilities, for instance, in clinical trials, because it’s in the UK clinical trials that we’ve discovered the most drugs that work to save people’s lives. First, of course, the dexamethasone, which they estimate has saved up to a million lives around the world already. To make sure that this is very successful going forward, we’re going to ensure that we attract onshore here in the UK, not just the research, the innovation, the development that you mentioned, but also the manufacturing of these products. We want to make it an impossible choice for a pharmaceutical company not to invest in the UK. And one of our commitments is that we will not ever block exports to anywhere around the world of a product made for a market around the world.
Matt Hancock: (25:16)
So you might’ve noticed you struck a chord with your question. It’s something I care deeply about. There’s a huge amount for the UK and that the UK can help collaboratively working with others around the world to save and improve lives, not just in terms of COVID in this pandemic, but the many, many other things we need to in the future, tackling cancer research for dementia, so many other vital things that we need to do. Dr. Canani.
Dr. Canani: (25:46)
I think one of the things, Melanie, that it’s worth reflecting on is the antiviral task force that we talked about last week. The NHS has taken a leading role in identifying different treatments for COVID. So Secretary of State mentioned the million lives saved worldwide. It’s estimated by the use of dexamethasone, that’s 22,000 lives probably saved by dexamethasone in the UK alone. So part of that is thanks to the 1.1 million people who’ve engaged in research. So one of my pleas is keep engaging in research, because actually, with your help, we can continue to be a global leader. And remember that we are now taking therapies from theory into the frontline within six days. So it’s really important that we continue the research, keep learning, and keep showing the country what we can do.
Matt Hancock: (26:34)
Prof. Van-Tam: (26:36)
I’m extremely proud of the UK science showing in this awful pandemic. I particularly want to thank the National Institute for Health Research, the NIHR, who’ve been the absolute backbone of everything that we’ve done. And I want to thank NHS frontline clinicians who somehow have fitted in the consenting and recruiting of patients into these massive studies alongside this appalling workload that they’ve had. And I want to thank the patients, tens of thousands of them across the UK, despite being very ill with coronavirus, who’ve said, “Yeah, clinical trial, I’m up for it. Sign me up.” And that’s really quite remarkable.
Prof. Van-Tam: (27:22)
And I want to remind you that still going on. We are the ones who are trying to generate the data on mix and match schedules for vaccines. We are the ones that are already very deep in planning to understand vaccine studies to look at booster doses for vaccines, either for the Autumn or for later, if later is when they are needed. But all of that work is going on, and multiple countries and organizations around the world are constantly asking and saying, “Wow, you’re getting on with that already. When can you share the data with us?” So yeah, we’re in a good place on the science.
Matt Hancock: (28:04)
Thanks very much, Melanie, for your question, incredibly important for the future and something that we all care very very much about. The next question is from Laura Coonsburg at the BBC.
Laura Coonsburg: (28:19)
Thank you very much, Secretary of State. If a serving government minister is found to have broken the rules on party funding or even law, should they resign?
Matt Hancock: (28:29)
Well, thanks very much. I know that the Prime Minister answered lots of questions about this in the House of Commons earlier. And given that this is a coronavirus press conference, you won’t be surprised that I’m not going to add to the answers the Prime Minister has already given to very extensive questioning. Thanks. Next question is Christian Geramathy.
Christian Geramathy: (28:52)
Mr. Hancock, I want to come to the situation in India, which is distressing millions of people in this country as well. I’m sure the oxygen will be appreciated by the hundreds it will save, but India has a shortage of vaccines, not least because America has restricted the exports of components, even though India kept ingredients going the other way. Are you reconsidering Britain’s Britain-first approach to vaccines and considering whether you can release any doses to help India? And also, are you, as Lee suggested today, perhaps reconsidering the drastic cuts to the international development budget, which could also have drastic impacts on the impact of COVID in the world’s poorest countries?
Matt Hancock: (29:36)
Well, as you say, Christian, we are supporting India with what we can. We don’t have any excess doses of vaccine in the UK at the moment. But what we have done is by providing the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine at cost and working with the Serum Institute of India, they are making and producing more doses of vaccine than any other single organization. And obviously, that means that they can provide vaccine to people in India at cost, with the investment that we put in here to get that vaccine up and running so fast. So absolutely, we’re leaning in both on what we can provide and the material goods we can provide now, like ventilators that we thankfully don’t need any more here and we’re sending them over, and like the oxygen production machines, which are being sent over from Northern Ireland. But also, it is the vaccine and the ability, the deal that was done so that India can produce its own vaccine based on British technology, that is the biggest contribution that we can make, which effectively comes from British science. Thanks very much. Next question, Ben Kentish at LBC.
Ben Kentish: (31:08)
Thank you, House Secretary. Given what you and Professor Vantam have said today about how positive the data’s looking, given almost 70% of adults in England now have antibodies, I wanted to ask about the rules and particularly about funerals, because some say there is a risk that you are now doing exactly what you said you wouldn’t and sticking rigidly to dates set back in February, rather than factoring and how good the data is looking. Now, there’s rules in sort all sorts of areas, but we’ve heard so many stories from people who cannot more loved ones in the way they would wish. Given in seven weeks time though, those same people will be able to pack into nightclubs, will you look again at relaxing the rules on funerals? And if I could just ask you a second question, about a month ago, you said in a few weeks we’d have data on how well current vaccines are working against current variants. Could you tell us what that data shows and what it means for both international travel this summer, but also the-
Ben Kentish: (32:03)
… what it means for both international travel this summer, but also the need or otherwise for a booster program this autumn. And if I could just go ask a very cheeky quick one to Professor van Tam, given that antibody data, professor, how close do you think we are to herd immunity and what sort of threshold would we be looking at it in percentage terms in order to reach that? Thank you very much.
Matt Hancock: (32:22)
Thanks very much, Ben. So I’ll ask professor van Tam to answer the second and the third question, if I may, if you don’t mind the extra burden on your workload. On funerals, this is of course incredibly important and a very, very sensitive subject. The data show that we are essentially precisely on track for where we expected to be at this point. And that is obviously good news. It means that we can follow the roadmap. And we look at the data all of the time. The dates that we set out are not before dates, because we want to see the impact of each step before the decision to take the next step. So that’s why the roadmap has been structured the way that it is, so that we can check that we are on track. The good news is that as far as the next step is concerned, which is in a few weeks time, and we’re going to keep monitoring the data. But as of today, we are on track for step three on the 17th of May. And that is good news. We’re almost exactly where the modelers predicted that we would be at this point. On questions two and three.
Prof. Van-Tam: (33:32)
Yeah. Thanks. Thanks Ben. I think there are some twists and turns ahead still, but I think we are moving at pace and I think we’re essentially following a good dry line now, but I don’t want us to run into any wet patches. That is going to be really critical in the next few weeks. There are going to be good pressures on R and bad pressures on R in the next few weeks. Obviously with the 17th of May planned easements and the 21st of June planned easements, these will have a propensity as we mix more and more normally to increase R. At the same time, we hope that the continued vaccine rollout, if it continues as well as it has started, will put the downward pressure on R. So those are kind of competing forces that are at play in the next few weeks, for all the right reasons. And so I want us to continue at pace, but still with caution.
Prof. Van-Tam: (34:44)
And I can’t emphasize how important the vaccine program continues to be because we are at the moment down to 42 year olds, but we need to go much further down and continue that high uptake to put us in a really sustainably safe place. Now on the variance, which was your next question, all of the data that you’ve heard at previous press briefings and the data again today are largely generated after Christmas. And because they are largely generated after Christmas, they are generated against the Kant-V117 variant virus. And so we are extremely confident that our current vaccines are working extremely well against the dominant variant in the UK.
Prof. Van-Tam: (35:38)
There are now other variants and of course there’s ones that are in the headlines, such as the Indian 617 variant. And there are others which have been in the headlines for some time, such as the south African 351 variant and the Brazil P1. Those case numbers in the UK have grown. I couldn’t call the numbers trivial, but at the same token, I don’t see them rushing away now or in the next few weeks in terms of giving as a new kind of problem.
Prof. Van-Tam: (36:16)
The way you test the vaccines against these variants is either you have that variant circulating widely in your population. And then, you kind of learn the hard way whether the vaccines are working or not. You gain real life epidemiological data. We can’t do that if they’re not circulating. We’re trying not to let them circulate. So we’re not going to create that situation. So instead, what we do are a series of laboratory studies called neutralization studies. And what they do is they take blood with antibodies from people who’ve had the vaccine, and we can run that blood, that serum against a range of different viruses. And if the antibodies neutralize the virus, that tells us that the vaccines are likely to work well.
Prof. Van-Tam: (37:15)
If the antibodies don’t fully neutralize the virus, that unfortunately doesn’t tell us the opposite, because we know vaccines not only stimulate the production of antibodies, they stimulate T-cell immunity, which you can’t measure in that same way. And so what I’d say at the moment is that we do see that as we go from Kant to South Africa, to Brazil, and then to South Africa, that we do see the level of neutralization for somewhat against the current vaccines. But we can’t say without those real epidemiological data, what the true clinical impact will be. Likely in my view, the first thing to go, if something goes, will be protecting against infection, but I hope protection against severe disease will be much more solid and much more lasting.
Prof. Van-Tam: (38:17)
But it is an uncertain world. I’m not going to give you a kind of false reassurance in this space. And that is why, and it is somebody reminded me today that it was a year ago when I first sent an email about this to the secretary of state, apparently. And it is why we have always framed this in terms of potentially the need to revaccinate our population, or at least parts of it at some point in the future. And not yet precisely known, and not yet precisely known who and possibly with variant vaccines. But again, not precisely known and partly dependent upon what the manufacturers can give to us. So that’s a long answer, but I hope it’s a complete one. And I hope it gives you a sense that there is scientific uncertainty, but we are watching this and have been for quite some time.
Matt Hancock: (39:20)
Fantastic. Great questions, Ben. And that answer is why he’s a professor. I’m just going to add one thing on the policy consequences of that. The challenges around international travel are around essentially around uncertainty. And that’s why policymaking around international travel is so difficult. We need to protect the progress that we’ve made through combination of the robust measures we have in place at the border and booster jabs later in the year. And that is all about protecting the progress that has made so far. And we do that learning as much as we can, whenever the science can come up with that data. Thanks very much indeed. Chris Smith at the Times.
Chris Smith: (40:14)
Okay. Just to clarify on these new Pfizer doses, will they be tweaked to target new variants? And if not, given we already got enough doses in order to vaccinate the population three times over, why do we need them? And shouldn’t we be giving them to India or other countries in desperate need. And you talked about the modeling. Last week, Sage got its assessments suggesting even after vaccinating adults, it’s unlikely possible to go back to normal pre-pandemic levels of social contact without cases rising again.
Chris Smith: (40:43)
So Professor van Tam, what kind of measures do you think might be necessary beyond the roadmap? And secretary of state, are fresh coronavirus restrictions something that the government is considering after June the 21st? Or can you rule out any legal limits on social interaction beyond this point? If I can [inaudible 00:41:03] the answer for Laura’s question. Last year, Amanda Milling threatened to abolish the electoral commission if it didn’t do the job that ministers wanted it to. As it now investigates the prime minister and the conservative party, is it doing so with that threat still hanging over it?
Matt Hancock: (41:16)
So I’ll answer the first question and then ask JVT to answer the second question. And I think we’ll give the third one a miss. The truth is that the 60 million Pfizer jabs, they have not yet been manufactured. This is a forward order. So it’s not that they’re now in our PAG freezers, ready to roll out. And I’ll ask JVT to set out the science behind how you’d give one vaccine and then a different vaccine in order to give people that protection, including against a new variant. But the situation in terms of India is that they obviously have a vaccination program, which is largely driven by the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine that’s being produced in India. And we obviously work very closely with them to ensure that they have access to that vaccine at cost.
Matt Hancock: (42:26)
And you’ll see that around the rest of the world, there’s this big debate about whether the intellectual property of some of the other vaccines should be waived because of the extra costs that it adds. And we, of course, have done that from the start for the period of the pandemic, from the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine. And it’s something that I’m very, very proud of. On your second question, I just wanted to make this point, which is that the vaccine breaks the link from cases to hospitalizations and deaths. It also, we now know, reduces your likelihood of transmitting the disease too. So it has a downward impact on R, and it also breaks the link. So we no longer look at cases as an inevitable precursor to future hospitalizations and deaths. That was a reasonable rule of thumb throughout the autumn.
Matt Hancock: (43:22)
And sadly, it came to be true as the charts that we showed earlier demonstrate. That is no longer the case. So we’re going to have to live with Coronavirus, much like we do with flu and wrestling COVID-19 to the position that it is rather like flu. It’s something we do things about, like infection prevention control in hospitals. Like vaccination, which we’ve done for flu for 40 years, but it something that dominates our lives as it does today. That is the strategic goal, if you like. And obviously the vaccination program is absolutely essential to it. Professor?
Prof. Van-Tam: (44:06)
Yeah, Chris, thanks for the questions. If you can spare the time, then I’ll kind of tell you a bit more. We have a whole cohort of people across the UK, who by late summer, by perhaps by mid summer, will have had AstraZeneca-AstraZeneca as their two dose primary course or Pfizer-Pfizer as their two dose primary course. The question then scientifically is if you need to boost those people at some point in the autumn or the winter, what do you give them? Do you give them the same again? Or do you give them something different? And there’s a study that we’ll start in June called COVID boost, and it’s Professor Faust and Professor Snape are going to be running this. It will be available to many, many people across the UK because so many of us would have had a course of vaccines by then, and people will be invited and randomized to different kinds of vaccines as the booster.
Prof. Van-Tam: (45:08)
And we’ll get an idea then of which give you the highest boost, which perhaps give you the broadest boost against a range of Coronavirus variants. And indeed, what the kind of timings look like on that. And that is another reason why the vaccines task force has invested in contracts with not just one or two manufacturers, but six or seven, so that we have that optionality. So we can always try and do the very best thing scientifically within the constraints of what we can realize in terms of supply at the time. So that’s the kind of answer and why it’s not straightforward and why there are a number of important insurance decisions around optionality of different supplies of vaccine for the autumn. It’s not as simple as cases just counting up the heads in the UK and going well, you’ve got too much. It may be more subtle than that.
Prof. Van-Tam: (46:11)
On measures beyond the roadmap, I think the modeling consensus is clear that we will have what is called a third wave. I am personally hopeful that if the vaccine program continues at pace and continues to be as successful as it’s been, the third wave, so to speak, might just be a third upsurge and much less significant because of the de-linking of cases to hospitalizations and deaths, as the secretary state has accurately said. But I think it’s inconceivable to think that we will go from a period of relative calm, which is where we are now, with no further bumps in the road in terms of upswings in activity between now and this time next year. And so, I am anticipating some degree of bumpiness probably in the autumn and the winter. But really it’s impossible to say. And so much depends upon first of all, the success of our vaccine program, not just what we’ve done already, but what we have to do in terms of finishing the job and getting down to the youngest adults. And secondly, in terms of what the variants will bring us, which is very largely a biological unknown at this point. Thank you.
Matt Hancock: (47:42)
Thanks very much indeed. Next question, Ben Glaze at the Mirror.
Ben Glaze: (47:47)
Thank you, Secretary of States. We’ve got various inquiries now into lobbying and leaks and loans, but what we haven’t got is an inquiry into the pandemic, which has killed 127,000 people in this country. And [inaudible 00:48:02] say that with case rates-
Ben Glaze: (48:03)
… some people in this country. And [inaudible 00:48:02] say that with case rates low and deaths continuing to fall, time’s right for you to set a timetable for that inquiry. Can you offer them some comfort tonight and set out a timetable? And to Professor Van-Tam and Dr. Kanani, what sort of issues or aspects of the response do you think that public inquiry should examine? Then just one additional question for you, secretary of state, if that’s okay. As culture secretary, you championed the rights of the free press and applaud the states who ask difficult questions yet this evening, you haven’t engaged with those questions from Chris or from Laura around Tory sleaze. Now, what’s the point of us being able to ask difficult questions if you’re not going to engage with them?
Matt Hancock: (48:47)
Thanks. Well, on the last one, the point of the press conference is the incredibly important progress that we’re making about coronavirus, which is without doubt, the most important thing facing the country. And if you’ve listened to the answers, I’m sure you have, from Dr. Kanani and Professor Van-Tam, you’ll have had one of the most illuminating descriptions of where we’re up to scientifically and operationally and clinically that is available. And I’m very, very grateful to the incredible capability of the people who support me as a minister. And as I say, it is important that there are questions and there were endless questions in the House of Commons earlier on some of the issues that you raise. And you’ll have seen the appointments of Lord Gate earlier. But you’ve also got to concentrate on the big things that really matter.
Matt Hancock: (49:40)
On the point about an inquiry, you’re quite right that it’s important that we have an inquiry. And it’s important too, that we learn lessons all of the time. And I think that it is vital that we constantly are seeking to learn what we can about the science, about how the rollout’s working, about how we can improve policy and then respond to that. And so there will be time for an inquiry, but the most important thing for the decision makers is to make sure that we’re constantly learning. And on what that inquiry might cover, I don’t know whether you want to add anything. My view is it should cover everything. I mean, that’s the point you heard from John Van-Tam just now, that he emailed me more than a year ago to talk about booster shots. I think that shows great foresight and I’m sure there’ll be lots of other things like that, that will be considered in the inquiry. Dr. Kanani?
Dr. Canani: (50:47)
Yes. I mean, I think that’s why we need to cover everything. Ben, that’s exactly what should happen to make sure that we are thorough, but at the same time, make sure we focus on what the vaccination is doing. And my message will continue to be, keep coming forward for the vaccination when you’re offered to do so. And if the vaccination is part of that inquiry, we will make sure that we keep learning from that and use that learning in booster programs and going forward as well.
Matt Hancock: (51:16)
Anything to add?
Prof. Van-Tam: (51:17)
Yes, something to add. Thanks, secretary of state. So look, my views on the inquiry are it’s very important, but please not now. We are far too busy, still engaged in cementing in the gains that we’ve made and making sure that we don’t have anything like the same kind of turbulence next winter as we had this winter. I hope the inquiry will focus very strongly on the amazing success of the vaccine procurement and vaccine delivery. I was out earlier this week in my hometown of Boston, with Linda and her team at the Princess Royal Arena, one of the mass vaccination centers. And they are doing a brilliant job and each one of them should be able to look at themselves in the mirror in the future and say, “This is what I did in 2021. This is the difference I made.” And I think that’s really important. And I hope that the inquiry properly explores the role of the unsung heroes at the local level, who just one by one, day by day, hour by hour are never tiring of vaccinating the people of this country.
Matt Hancock: (52:40)
Fantastic. Maybe they’ll see themselves not only in the mirror, but also in her Majesty’s mirror. Who knows? Thanks very much, Ben. Next question, David Hughes from PA.
David Hughes: (52:53)
One for all of you. In America, the health regulators have said the latest science means people who have received both doses of the vaccine could meet up freely. If the government’s still guided by the science, why can’t that happen here? Is it because as [inaudible 00:53:08] Mary Ramsey said today, “There are different cultural perspectives and there’s a desire for everyone to move at once.” And for you, secretary of state, you often find yourself on a different side of the arguments to the prime minister during the consideration of lockdowns. Did you ever hear him say that he’d be prepared to let coronavirus rip or see bodies pile up rather than impose another lockdown?
Matt Hancock: (53:30)
No, I didn’t. And on the first question, the decision we’ve taken and I think it’s a decision very widely supported across the country is to move together. And that’s what the roadmap does. As you know, in the autumn, we moved different parts of the country, different parts of England, according to the rates that we saw in those areas. That had some advantages, but it also had a disadvantage that we then saw in the areas where we had fewer restrictions. We saw cases pop up. So we took the decision when we wrote the roadmap that we all move as one. And I think that that is very, very widely supported. Professor, and then we’ll end with Dr. Kanani.
Prof. Van-Tam: (54:20)
So just a bit of science on the vaccinated people meeting. You are quite right, that if two people who’ve both had two doses of vaccine and have both served, if that’s the right term, at least 14 days after their second dose, then I would be highly confident scientifically that if those were reputable vaccines, then indeed it would be incredibly safe for those two people to meet. So the answer to your question though is soon. I really hope soon, but not quite now. Please remember that nobody under 42, other than the clinically extremely vulnerable in whom the vaccine may be slightly less effective, and healthcare workers have had the vaccine, let alone had two courses and been 14 days beyond it. So I know this feels tantalizingly extremely close, and it is going to be frustrating at times for people, particularly those who’ve had their two doses. But we just need to make sure we don’t have to go backwards again on any of this and just hold the line for just a teeny bit longer.
Matt Hancock: (55:46)
Not all 42 year olds have had it yet. Dr. Kanani.
Dr. Canani: (55:53)
Thank you. Thanks, David. I think one of the things that is really worth reflecting on as we talk about moving as a country together is that the vaccination program has really, at its core, always talked about not leaving people behind. And so, it’s really important that we have vaccine equity. I spoke last week about uptake in ethnic minority groups, rising at a exponential rate. And we need to make sure that everyone is protected because…And you’ve heard it before, but none of us are protected until all of us are protected. So a little bit longer, please.
Matt Hancock: (56:24)
Thanks very much. That brings this coronavirus briefing to an end. I hope to see you soon.