Mar 1, 2021

UK Downing Street Coronavirus Press Conference with Matt Hancock Transcript March 1

UK Downing Street Coronavirus Press Conference with Matt Hancock Transcript March 1
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsUK Downing Street Coronavirus Press Conference with Matt Hancock Transcript March 1

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock held a coronavirus press conference on March 1, 2021. He announced that a single shot of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine or the Pfizer vaccine “works against severe infection among the over 70s with a more than 80% reduction in hospitalizations.” Read the transcript of the full briefing here.

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Matt Hancock : (04:38)
Good afternoon, and welcome to today’s Downing Street coronavirus briefing. And I’m joined by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam and by Dr. Susan Hopkins from PHE and NHS Test and Trace.

Matt Hancock : (04:51)
And since we spoke on Friday, I’m absolutely delighted that we’ve reached the milestone of vaccinating 20 million people across the UK. It is a magnificent achievement. First slide, please. And, as of yesterday, 20,275,451 people have received a jab.

Matt Hancock : (05:15)
And I want to pay tribute to all the teams involved across the whole of the UK who’ve been delivering the largest and fastest vaccination program in British history. And that we’ve been able to do this and that we’ve been able to move so much faster than any other similar-size nation has depended on a huge number of people. It is not an accident. It’s down to insight and hard work. For the last year, this team has shared a common mission, which is to deliver a vaccine as fast as safely possible.

Matt Hancock : (05:53)
We’ve got used to saying thank you to people who’ve made it happen, but I just want to call out a couple in particular. Firstly, the regulator, the MHRA, who have remained tough and rigorous throughout, yet flexible so that it’s safety, not bureaucracy, that they focus on. And they have proved themselves to be, in my view, the best medical regulator in the world, and we are all very grateful.

Matt Hancock : (06:19)
Next, the Vaccine Taskforce, their combination of academic excellence with private sector entrepreneurialism and civil service grip has forged a team of remarkable capability, which is a model for how governments can get stuff done in the future. The scientists, the pharmaceutical companies, the armed forces, everyone involved in the delivery effort from the leadership of the NHS through to every local volunteer and you, the British people, for sticking to the rules and for the remarkable enthusiasm to get a jab, which makes me really proud. Recent figures show 94% of those eligible have said that they either have had a job or will get a jab when their call comes. 94%.

Matt Hancock : (07:11)
And this is so important because each and every jab makes us all safer. Every time a friend sends me a message with a picture of them having had their jab, and this happens to me a lot, I know that we’re all one step safer and we’re all one step closer to returning to normality. So it is fantastic the enthusiasm that people are showing. And we’ve still got a long way to go, so let’s stick at it.

Matt Hancock : (07:41)
Today, we have some new data to show on the effectiveness of the vaccine, both its real world effect that we can now see in the data and some new analytical research that we’re publishing that shows how it’s saving lives. And this is being published in a paper by Public Health England and others right now.

Matt Hancock : (08:04)
First, let’s look at the real world data. Next slide, please. If you look at the number of new cases, as we described on Friday, the number of new cases is falling, but the rate of decline has slowed. This shows how we all need to keep sticking to the rules. Let’s not blow it now.

Matt Hancock : (08:24)
However, next slide, please, the number of hospitalizations is falling faster. Even better, among the age groups who were vaccinated first, so the older age groups, the fall in hospitalizations is faster than in the younger age groups who are still yet to get a jab. This is a sign that the vaccine is working. Next slide, please.

Matt Hancock : (08:48)
But where you can really see it is in the data on deaths. We can see that the number of each day is thankfully falling much, much faster than in the first peak. And again, as you can see from this slide, it’s falling faster in the over 80s, who got the jab first, than in the under 80s. Final slide, please.

Matt Hancock : (09:11)
And taken together, this difference in the data between older and younger groups shows a vaccine gap, and you can just see it starting to emerge here over February. This is a gap between the rate of decline in older and younger groups, where the older groups were obviously vaccinated first. And you’re seeing that there, the rate of decline in terms of the number of people dying each day, is going faster amongst the over 80s. And this shows in the real world across the UK right now that the vaccine is helping both to protect the NHS and to save lives.

Matt Hancock : (09:54)
And these real world effects are backed up by some exciting new data that shows that a single shot of either the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine or of the Pfizer vaccine works against severe infection among the over 70s with a more than 80% reduction in hospitalizations. This is extremely good news. In fact, the detailed data show that the protection that you get from catching COVID 35 days after a first jab is even slightly better for the Oxford jab than for Pfizer. Albeit, both results are clearly very strong, and Professor Van-Tam’s going to set out more details in a moment.

Matt Hancock : (10:41)
These results may also help to explain why the number of COVID admissions to intensive care units among people over 80 in the UK have dropped to single figures in the last couple of weeks, which is something I know that we all welcome. This is seriously encouraging. It shows the power of science.

Matt Hancock : (11:04)
And what it means for you is that when the call comes, get the jab. The evidence shows that it will protect you and protect others. And I can formally announce that we’re now inviting the over 60s to be vaccinated, all part of our national effort to ensure everybody is offered the vaccine, every adult, by the end of July.

Matt Hancock : (11:27)
To do that and to make sure our vaccine program is always kept up-to-date, we are making sure that the program has the funds that it needs to do all of this incredible work. At the budget on Wednesday, the chancellor will set out 1.65 billion pounds worth of new government funding to reinforce our vaccine rollout across all parts of the UK.

Matt Hancock : (11:50)
As more of us are protected against the virus, we can gradually replace the safety that comes from the restrictions that we have to impose with the safety that comes from the jab. And part of that funding will go towards further vaccine testing and development to make sure we are as fast and effective in developing the next generation of COVID vaccines, including vaccines against new variants, as we were with the existing ones. And there’s a huge amount of work underway to ensure that we can develop vaccines against variants as fast as safely possible.

Matt Hancock : (12:28)
Finally, I want to turn to a different subject, the six cases of the variants of concern that was first identified in Manaus in Brazil that we have identified here in the UK, three in Scotland and three in England. We know that five of these people quarantined at home as they were legally required to do. We’ve been in contact with them and their families, and we’re grateful to them for understanding the seriousness of the situation. We’re putting in place surge testing in South Gloucestershire as a precaution, and I urge everyone to remain vigilant.

Matt Hancock : (13:02)
One of the six completed a test, but did not successfully complete contact details. And we’re therefore asking anyone who took a test on the 12th or 13th of February, but hasn’t received the result back to please get in touch by calling 119 in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, or in Scotland, 0300-303-2713. And Dr. Hopkins will give more information about this effort in a moment.

Matt Hancock : (13:33)
We identified these cases thanks to the UK’s advanced sequencing capabilities. We know about them because of the work of NHS Test and Trace. And scientists around the world are now working hard to get ahead of some of these new variants, looking at how much a third vaccine dose could tackle these evolving mutations, if it’s necessary, much as we tackle mutations from flu each year. But for now, tackling this disease rests with every single one of us. It’s-

Matt Hancock : (14:03)
… or tackling this disease rests with every single one of us. It’s important to remember that no matter what variant it is, COVID spreads in the same way, through social contact between people. The steps that we can all take to stop its spread are the same: to stay at home, to take vital steps like hands, face, and space, and make sure we observe the basics, letting fresh air in, and keeping to the rules on social distancing. And that’s how we can keep ourselves safe and protect the people around us, and if we do that, as surely as spring follows winter, there will be brighter days ahead. I’m now going to turn to Dr. Hopkins to set out more about the P1 variant, and then to Professor Van-Tam on more details of this excellent research into the impact of the vaccine. Susan?

Dr. Susan Hopkins: (14:52)
Thank you, Secretary of State. As has widely been reported, this weekend, we identified six cases of a new variant of concern in the UK three cases in England and three in Scotland. This variant, called P1, has been identified widely in Manaus, Brazil, and also in other countries across the world. We are tracking it closely, because it shares some important mutations with the variant first identified in South Africa, such as E484K, and N501Y. Unusual names, I understand. These and other mutations are associated with reduced impact of antibodies against the virus in laboratory experiments. The current vaccines have not yet been studied against this variant, and we will need to wait for further clinical and trial data to understand the vaccine effectiveness against this variant. In the meantime, it is important we track cases of this new variant as closely as possible, in order to limit its spread in the UK.

Dr. Susan Hopkins: (15:55)
Of the cases found, two are from a single household in the South Gloucestershire area. One of these individuals traveled back from Brazil, and has subsequently isolated effectively at home. The household developed symptoms shortly afterwards, and household members went forward, got tested. The sample was sequenced through our sequencing laboratories, and reported to be this P1 variant. As the Secretary of State has said, we are doing additional search testing in parts of South Gloucestershire, as a highly precautionary measure, and we urge people in that part of the country to come forward for testing. I would like to stress though, that these individuals have followed all of the current protocols in terms of self-isolation, both on their return from the UK, but also after they received positive test results and developed symptoms.

Dr. Susan Hopkins: (16:44)
We’re also contacting individuals who were on the Swiss Air flight LX 318, traveling from Zurich into London on the 10th of February, to provide public health advice and to test them and their households. More than 90% of the flight have already been contacted through the details they left on the passenger locator form. If you were a passenger on that flight and have not been contacted, please call 0117-450-3174 to arrange a test for you and your household contacts.

Dr. Susan Hopkins: (17:19)
There is also a third unlinked case. This individual did not complete their test registration card, so follow-up details were not available to the test and trace teams. This is an extremely rare event. Probably less than 1,000 of individuals who have a test through the community testing services, we cannot trace them this way, but we know this is more frequent, about 0.3% in those that do home tests or have tests through the surge testing service. We’re in the process of doing everything we can to track down this individual who we believe would’ve taken the test on the 12th or 13th of February. We’re especially looking for individuals who may have taken a test through search testing, those tests that the local authorities hand out door to door, and haven’t managed to complete their online form, to either complete their online form or call one of the numbers that I’m going to tell you about. These numbers are 119 in England, and 0300-303-2713 in Scotland, as soon as possible. Thank you.

Matt Hancock : (18:26)
Thank you very much, Dr. Hopkins, and now I’m going to turn to Professor Van-Tam to set up more details on the good news, in terms of the impact of the vaccines.

Professor Van-Tam: (18:37)
Thank you, Secretary of State, and a few moments ago, Public Health England, with partners from across the four devolved nations of the UK, published a new report summarizing vaccine effectiveness to date, as part of the England program. Now, thank you for bearing with us, because it has taken a while for that signal to stabilize, so we have enough confidence to give you some data. But equally, it is still remarkably fast, and a credit to our public health agencies that they’ve been able to do it in this very short period of time since our vaccination program began. And I particularly want to mention Jamie Lopez Bernal, Mary Ramsay, Nick Andrews, and their colleagues who have done really an enormous amount of hard work to get us to where we are today, in terms of our data understanding.

Professor Van-Tam: (19:46)
So the data I’m going to lay out for you, are all data pertaining to vaccine effectiveness after the first dose of vaccine. And you have to be very careful about the outcome measures that you are describing, and therefore, I’ll go through them very carefully. The first outcome measure is outcome against infections defined in this case, as people who are ill with symptoms and who come forward and take a positive COVID test, and the data are for individuals aged 70 years of age and over. And for both vaccines, we see vaccine effectiveness against illness after the first dose of approximately 60%. that was measured 28 to 34 days after the vaccine had been given, but in the case of the Pfizer vaccine, that effect is seen to be sustained into the 35 day plus time bracket. For AstraZeneca in the 35 day plus time bracket, there is an early sign that that might still be increasing to around 70%, but the confidence intervals on that are very wide, and that is a less certain figure, but the figure I can be certain of is 60% effectiveness against illness.

Professor Van-Tam: (21:27)
Now, obviously there are still unfortunately, because no vaccine is 100% effective, people who become ill despite having had that first dose of vaccine. But if you look at the then reductions in hospitalization that are occurring on top in those people who still become infected, and you add that to the fact that people who are not infected can’t by definition, be hospitalized with COVID, what that brings you to is an overall effect for both vaccines in public health terms, that they are now preventing 80%, reducing the likelihood of hospitalization by 80% after one dose. So that’s the second outcome, the hospitalizations data, and the third outcome is mortality. And because of the fact that mortality takes longer to measure, deaths, unfortunately from COVID take longer to occur after hospitalizations, at this point, we only have data for the Pfizer vaccine where the likelihood of mortality is being reduced by 85% in those over 70 year olds.

Professor Van-Tam: (22:52)
So that’s really the summary. There’s a lot more detail in the PHE paper, which is online, but I think you’ll agree with me that although these data pertain just to the 70 plus age group at the moment, and our vaccine program moves on with really significant pace now, as we move into the lower age groups, it shows us, gives us those first glimpses of how if we are patient and we give this vaccine program time to have its full effect, it is going to hopefully take us into a very different world in the next few months. But we have to be patient, we have to push on with the vaccine program, and most importantly, when you are called for your place in the vaccine queue, it’s important that you come forwards and have that first dose, and when called for your second dose, and some people will be being called back quite soon now for their second doses, to come forwards for that too. Thank you, Secretary of State.

Matt Hancock : (24:04)
Great stuff, Professor Van-Tam. Thank you very much, indeed. Our first questions are from members of the public, and the first by video is from Claire, from Selby.

Claire: (24:15)
Why is there such disparity across the country in accessing the vaccine? In my local area, group seven has been vaccinated before group six, and I have fit and healthy friends aged 60 who have had the jab. Other areas are starting over 50 soon. Why are group six, the clinically vulnerable with chronic ill health being left behind, and should the vaccines not be dispensed equally?

Matt Hancock : (24:39)
Thanks very much, Claire. So we are working incredibly hard to get these vaccines out, and making sure that we both deliver according to the order set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisations, and also do that in a way that doesn’t lead to any vaccine being wasted. For instance, we know that the Pfizer jab has to be used within a few days of it coming out of the freezer. So the vaccine centers are allowed, if the vaccine is otherwise going to be wasted, to make sure that it’s used on a reserve list, which might include people who are from the next category down, so that does happen occasionally.

Matt Hancock : (25:25)
We’re essentially balancing the need for speed, with the need for sticking by the rank ordering. What I can tell you though, is that we are getting through all those groups, we’re running at around a half a million a day, just on the on average over the last week, and this means that if you are in group six and you haven’t yet been called, you won’t have to wait for long because we’re really rattling through that group as we speak. So of course I understand the concern here. It is a matter of balancing the practical operational need for speed, and some flexibility, with trying to stick by the rank ordering. JV team, unless you have anything to add?

Speaker 1: (26:08)
Nothing to add, thank you.

Matt Hancock : (26:10)
Thanks very much, Claire. A very important question, I appreciate it. Next question is from Alasdair, from Norwich.

Alasdair: (26:17)
Concerning the government’s data hopefully reintroducing public freedoms, are there any specific numbers of daily cases, deaths, or hospital admissions that they feel we have to be below, in order to guarantee those freedoms? If so, what are they?

Matt Hancock : (26:31)
Great question, Alasdair. The answer is no, there are not specific thresholds, and the reason for that is that the prime minister set out four tests and all four matter, but some of them can’t be quantified in numbers. So the four tests include, of course, that hospitalizations and deaths are coming down, also that there isn’t a surge in cases that might risk hospitalizations going up in the future, also that the vaccine program is rolling out well, and finally, that there isn’t a new variant of control of concern that puts all this at risk. And so, the challenge is that we have to balance all four of these metrics, and some of them can be quantified, like the number of hospitalizations and deaths, but others can’t, like the impact of a variant of concern because it depends on the nature of that variant. So that’s why we haven’t put precise numbers on it, but we make a judgment based on these four tests as to whether we can take each step in the roadmap when the time comes. Thanks, Alasdair. Next question is from Laura Kuenssberg at the BBC. Laura?

Laura Kuenssberg: (27:40)
Thank you very much indeed, Secretary of State. Someone carrying the Brazilian variant was able to disappear weeks after the variant was first detected, because the government hadn’t yet got round to introducing quarantine hotels. Do you believe that that delay would’ve put people at risk? And Professor Van-Tam, if I can ask you about the very effective news about the vaccine which sounds very…

Laura Kuenssberg: (28:03)
… effective news about the vaccine, which sounds very impressive. In the real world, how would you describe the impact that these kinds of results suggest the vaccine might have and what kinds of difference could that make in the weeks to come to what we’re all experiencing?

Matt Hancock : (28:15)
Thanks, Laura. Two very important questions. The answer to your first is no. We had already quarantine in place and in fact, we’d already put in place a ban on direct travel from Brazil. And also that if those who aren’t either citizens or resident here couldn’t come. And all the evidence is that the five cases that we know about followed those quarantine rules. And that, I hope, is very reassuring to people. And there is no evidence that the sixth case did not follow those quarantine rules. We need to obviously get in contact with the person in question. Also, this positive task was on the 12th or 13th of February, we think.

Matt Hancock : (29:03)
And that was obviously over two weeks ago and we haven’t seen any further knock on transmissions in the data that we obviously monitor very, very closely. And we now sequence around a third of all of the positive tests. So all of that points to the work that’s been done and the system that was in place having managed to control this. But obviously since then, we’ve introduced further and stricter measures, the hotel quarantine as you say to, to strengthen the system further. In answer to your second question, I’ll go straight to Professor Van-Tam.

Professor Van-Tam: (29:47)
Thanks for the question, Laura. So we’ve given first doses now to more than 20 million people on the JCVI priority groups. But we need to remember that that still means there are another 15 million people roughly who need their first dose, and then it will be important to go back progressively as we go through from now, really, to give second doses. So it is still all going to take time until we can apply the results that I’ve described to you in a more generalized way in the population. But in time I expect the vaccine to lower levels of disease across the country. I expect it to reduce the likelihood, because we’re starting from the elderly and the most vulnerable, that infections that are present can get into the older and more vulnerable population.

Professor Van-Tam: (30:48)
And I expect for the individuals who have been vaccinated, even if they come across the virus and even if they are infected with the virus, I expect the likelihood of them suffering severe consequences not to be eliminated, but to be lessened over time. In other words, the ratio of mild cases to severe cases should increase in favor of milder cases as time goes by. So there’s a lot to look forwards to. It’s very tempting to just go, “Right. We’ve seen the results. That means the problem’s fixed.” The problem isn’t fixed yet, but we definitely have identified a way of fixing the problem and the early data show us how to do that and where to advance from here.

Matt Hancock : (31:48)
Thanks very much indeed. Anything to add, Susan? No. Next question from Romilly Weeks at ITV. Romilly.

Romilly Weeks: (31:56)
Health secretary, you’ve said that one of the ways to stop the spread of this new variant is to stay at home and yet you’re about to open schools and start the process of unlocking. How likely is it that this new variant could derail that process? And if I could ask Dr. Hopkins as well, what is the likelihood that there are already many more than six cases of the new variant in the UK? And the prime minister has said today that there’s no evidence that the existing vaccines are not effective against the new variant. How confident are you that they are effective?

Matt Hancock : (32:31)
Thanks very much, Romilly. Three vital questions. The first one on schools, we do not think that there’s any need to change the approach on schools for Monday because of this new variant. And the reason we think that is that in five of the six cases, we have been in contact with them. Three in Scotland, where of course Public Health Scotland takes the lead. And two in England, in South Gloucestershire, where Public Health England have take the lead. And they’ve been in contact with these cases and we have a high degree of confidence that they followed quarantine as they were legally required to do. In the case of the sixth case, of course, as you know, we’re trying to track down this individual, but we also have not seen any further community spread. And so whilst obviously it’s something that we should be all vigilant about and it reinforces the need for people to follow the rules as they are now, it doesn’t change our assessment of the roadmap right now, not least because our goal is to contain this transmission to just these six people. But we will obviously be looking out for that very, very carefully.

Dr. Susan Hopkins: (33:51)
I would just add, so we’ve sequenced almost 150,000 cases of this infection since this 2021. These are the only six cases that we’ve identified. We’ve also working with both the ONS and REACT studies, where they get a representative proportion of the population sequenced. And we have not found any P1 cases in that. That’s all very reassuring, but we’re still on guard and increasing the proportion of the cases that get sequenced on a week by week basis. And clearly we will manage and look to see if there is any other cases in the community. That’s why we want this individual to come forward so we can ensure that their contacts are tested, that we review and look at everything about this case and can find out whether there are any associated cases that need any further work done to them.

Matt Hancock : (34:42)
Thanks very much, Romilly. The next question from Thomas Moore at Sky.

Thomas Moore: (34:48)
Secretary of state, you know there is this missing case, but not who or where, or whether they’ve self isolated. How is it that after two months of a tough lock down and just one week before it starts to lift such a concerning new variant has been allowed to slip through the net? And Professor Van-Tam, level with the British public, is there any prospect of a foreign holiday this summer when new variants are crossing our borders and there’s still no vaccine with inbuilt universal protection against the evolving virus?

Matt Hancock : (35:21)
Thanks, Thomas. Well, I see it the other way round. It’s because of the extraordinary capability of NHS Test and Trace that we’ve been able to identify these cases. And in particular, there is a high chance that the identification of the sixth case came through the surge testing that we put in around communities where we were previously looking for other variants of concern. And we don’t know that for sure. But without the huge surveillance that we have in terms of the testing capability, and then the ability to sequence that, we wouldn’t know about this. And by sequencing now around 30% of cases, that means that we do have a very good survey to be able to spot variants of concern like this. But as you say, it is critical that people continue to follow the rules because that limits the spread of new variants in the same way that it limits the spread of the existing variant, what infects most people in the country, thankfully, with decreasing rates. Susan.

Dr. Susan Hopkins: (36:36)
I would just like to add that sometimes it’s really important that people may have got the test and then not realized how to complete it, or may have lost their form to complete it. 119 is standing by in England and also the Scottish number is available on the website. So we are imploring people to come forward if they haven’t got their test results and we will help you find and reconnect you with that test results and therefore be able to stop any transmission.

Matt Hancock : (37:01)
Thanks very much. Sarah Boseley from The Guardian.

Sarah Boseley: (37:05)
Thank you very much minister. So we know that the P1 variant, obviously Brazil is on the red list of countries where people have to quarantine as a result of coming back. But Labor is saying that the P1 variant’s also being found in Germany, the Faroe Islands, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea and the USA, and none of those are on the red list. So doesn’t this mean that the UK borders are in fact incredibly porous and the red list is not the way to go about this since variants can travel so easily? And secondly, can I just ask you about the very positive news from PHE about the vaccines and the AstraZeneca vaccine in particular. Do you think, minister, that this could actually put paint to the skepticism we’ve seen in Europe about this vaccine?

Matt Hancock : (37:54)
Well, thank you very much. I’ll answer those two and then I’ll ask JVT to answer the previous question from Thomas Moore at Sky which I cut you off before you’re about to answer that. So the first point is that the proportion of cases that are variants of concern in some other countries like Germany are exceptionally low in the same way that the proportion of cases here that are variants of concern are exceptionally low. But there are some other countries like Brazil and South Africa, where the variant of concern is the dominant variant. And that is a material consideration in terms of the red list. But what I’d say further to that is home quarantine is required for everybody. And we have a requirement for a pre-departure test and then a test at day two and day eight. So we have these strong safeguards against these variants that are in place now. On the second question, I hope that people look at the data that we’ve published today and see the rigor of the science and read from that the same as I read from it. Which is that both of the vaccines that are in use in the UK right now are extremely effective after one dose. There is some further evidence in the paper of further effectiveness after two doses, and that’s yet more good news. And there are, on some measures, there are signs that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is slightly more effective than the Pfizer vaccine. But the Pfizer vaccine on these data is also extremely effective. So I absolutely hope that right around the world, people study these data and understand what they mean. Which is that getting the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab or getting the Pfizer jab is the right thing to do and it could save your life. JVT.

Professor Van-Tam: (40:07)
Thank you. So I’ll go back to just, before I answer, add to that, Sarah. I’ll just go back to Thomas Moore’s questioning. He asked me to level with him and the British people about summer holidays. And, look, I think we are still, as you can see from today’s news, we are still in a zone of great uncertainty about what the virus will do next. On top of that, many of the vaccination programs in Europe, which is a place where we frequently go on holiday abroad are running behind ours. And clearly whether we can go on holiday abroad to places such as Europe depends upon what other countries will say and do in terms of foreign tourism. So that’s the best I can do to level with you. I’m not going to give you a firm answer because I genuinely don’t think there is one at this point.

Professor Van-Tam: (41:09)
I think I would just say that there has to be great uncertainty at the moment. On the point about the AstraZeneca vaccine and non adoption by many countries in terms of its use in the over 65 population, that was driven by the fact that there were relatively small amounts of data on the over 65s in the clinical trials available at that point in time for the AZ vaccine. And our technical advisory committee, the JCVI, took a view, which I share that it was not immunologically plausible that the vaccine would work in the age range 18 to 55 years of age, which is a lot-

Professor Van-Tam: (42:03)
… to 55 years of age, which is a lot of where the data run out, and then to not work in those older age groups. We took a view that it almost certainly would work. The PHE data have clearly vindicated that approach today. And I’m not here to criticize other countries, but to say that I think, in time, the data emerging from our program will speak for itself and that other countries will doubtless be very interested in it. Thank you.

Matt Hancock : (42:38)
Thanks, Professor Van-Tam. Very diplomatic. I just would add one other thing that is important to read from this data, which is that the data do also support the clinicians’ view and the advice to us ministers, which we took, that the appropriate dosing regime is 12 weeks apart in order to save the most lives, because the reduction of hospitalizations by more than 80% is a very, very good sign. Thank you very much. Sarah, next question is Macer Hall from the Express.

Macer Hall: (43:21)
Thank you very much, Secretary of State. Question to Professor Van-Tam and Dr. Hopkins about masks. People in some parts of the world have taken to wearing two masks. Joe Biden has been seen double masking. I just wondered, have you seen any evidence that suggests double masking is a good idea, and would you recommend it? And Secretary of State, Israel, like the UK, has had a very fast vaccine rollout, but there have been concerns that significantly fewer people come forward for a second dose. Have you seen a similar thing happening here, and what are you doing to make sure that people do get the two doses that they need?

Matt Hancock : (43:57)
Thanks very much, Macer. Double masking?

Dr. Susan Hopkins: (44:00)
So I think what we know is that the more layers you have, the better. And so we recommend at least two layers in the UK and ideally three layers in a mask. And that is really important to reduce the viral transmission, both from you to others and from others to you. We have got a face masks and face coverings advisory group, who meet on a regular basis and look at new and emerging evidence, and the US has looked at some of that evidence as well. We are in an ongoing discussion about what to do next, but we think one mask that has more than two layers in it is currently effective for the vast majority of the population.

Matt Hancock : (44:41)
Thanks very much. Anything to add?

Professor Van-Tam: (44:43)
Nothing to add on that. Thank you.

Matt Hancock : (44:45)
On the point about Israel, the first thing I’d say is that we have seen this vaccine gap emerging in the Israeli data as well, and it’s very reassuring to see the same impressive results from the vaccine in Israel as well as now here in the UK. In terms of second doses, I have heard those reports that you refer to. We haven’t seen that sort of reticence here, and it is absolutely vitally important as we come up to the 12-week mark since Margaret Keenan received her first jab on the 8th of December, and so the number of people coming for a second jab is going to start to rise as we go through this month. And we’ve got all the supplies to deliver that, and everybody can have confidence that the jab will be there ready and waiting for them when they go forward for their second vaccination.

Matt Hancock : (45:43)
But obviously, coming forward for the second jab is a very, very important part of this program. Because while the first job gives you this excellent protection that we are seeing in the data that we’re publishing today, the data also show that for the Pfizer jab, which is the only one that we have the data for, you get yet further protection from the second jab. So you should not just come forward for the first jab, which people are doing in droves and the uptake figures are spectacular, but it is very important that people come forward for their second jab when they’re asked to as well by the NHS. Anything you’d like to add, Professor Van-Tam?

Professor Van-Tam: (46:25)
Thank you. I’d just like to say that the human immune system is really incredibly complex, and there are some immunologists who are much cleverer than I who are still trying to get to the bottom of it. And probably the next generation of immunologists after them will still be trying to get to the bottom of it. But I think there’s quite some significant likelihood that a second dose of vaccine is going to mature your immune response, possibly make it broader and almost certainly make it longer than it would otherwise be in relation to a first dose only.

Professor Van-Tam: (47:06)
So whilst our policy is absolutely and without apology or reservation been to pursue first dose as the priority for as many people as possible, and inevitably the consequence of that is that the second doses are delayed somewhat, it is absolutely critical that they are still part of the course of immunization against COVID-19 and no less important for that reason.

Matt Hancock : (47:39)
Thanks very much. Thanks very much, Macer. The final question is from Jill Lawless at AP. Jill.

Jill Lawless: (47:46)
Thank you very much. A question for you, Health Secretary. I wondered what you thought about the EU’s plan for what they’re calling a digital vaccination green pass, essentially a vaccine passport. The UK has called for international coordination on getting international travel going again. Is that a useful idea? And is it something Britain might want to sign up to? And then just one for everyone. The roadmap to easing the lockdown in England starts in a week’s time when children go back to class, and then it proceeds in a number of steps. I wondered which step you’re the most concerned about.

Matt Hancock : (48:26)
Thanks very much, Jill. So we are absolutely working with our international partners on any need for certification in terms of having had a vaccine to be able to travel to another country. Because if another country wants to say that you need to have been vaccinated with a recognized vaccine to travel there, we want to enable Brits to be able to take that journey. So we are working with international partners. The EU is part of those discussions as are several other countries around the world, and it’s obviously important work.

Matt Hancock : (49:05)
What I’d also say is that, in a sense, this already exists because you need to have a test before you can travel to the UK. And as far as I understand it from the details set out today, the EU proposal is that certification includes both whether you’ve had the vaccine and also whether you’ve recently had a test for those who can’t get vaccinated yet, which is obviously particularly important. Therefore, it’s something that we’re working with them and others on, and it matters that we get the details of this right for international travel.

Matt Hancock : (49:48)
And on the question on the roadmap, what I’d say in response to your question is that we have set out the tests precisely so we can be sure that the data still allow for the safe step down the roadmap. And I am highly confident that the opening of schools on Monday is the right thing to do, and the data point that way. And then we will assess the data before taking step two. The roadmap is designed to be able to see the data before we take each step, and so we’ve done it in that way in order to be able to have the assurance that we are taking a cautious yet irreversible path out of this pandemic. Dr. Hopkins, anything to add on that?

Dr. Susan Hopkins: (50:43)
Well, I would agree. I think the thing that we know is that children going back to school and that each point is likely to increase interactions with others. And therefore we are likely to see an increase in the [inaudible 00:50:53] number and potentially more transmissions. What we need to do is give time after each of the events to monitor the impact of that, not just on cases in the community, but particularly on hospital admissions and deaths, which is what we see that the vaccines are preventing and what would prevent surges in hospitalizations and therefore a big impact. So we will need to monitor the cases after each step, and that’s going to be really important.

Professor Van-Tam: (51:20)
Thank you, Secretary of State. At the risk of sounding like a parrot, I am not worried about any particular step. I am far more worried that there is time to consider the effect of each step before we move onto the next one. And that way we get into a process where we are, hopefully with vaccines, relaxing in a very long-term way, and we don’t have to go backwards and forwards and backwards and forwards in these stuttering steps. I’d rather take much slower and more pronounced and measured steps that always go in one direction, and that just means moving a little more slowly than sometimes your instincts and your emotions and your desires would lead you to want to do.

Matt Hancock : (52:12)
There’s one final point I’d like to make on this, Jill, which is the link to the data that we’ve just published on the vaccine efficacy, because the effectiveness of the vaccine on protecting people and on reducing transmission is critical to the roadmap. The only reason we can set out as full a roadmap as we have is because of the vaccine rollout. Because we know that without the vaccine, there is no way to keep people safe in the way that we can with the vaccine.

Matt Hancock : (52:47)
And so the data that we’ve published today shows that the roadmap is achievable because it shows that we will be able to break the link from cases through to hospitalizations and to deaths. And until now in the pandemic, that link from cases through to hospitalizations and deaths has been unbreakable. And we have demonstrated with the data today that the vaccines can break that link, and that is down to the power of science. So it’s good news for everybody and, in a way, it’s reassuring for our ability to progress down the roadmap. Thanks very much indeed for your questions. I look forward to seeing you at a future Downing Street press conference, no doubt soon.