Jonathan Van-Tam tells LBC listeners not to worry about Covid vaccine working against new strains

13 January 2021, 12:18

By Megan White

Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has told LBC listeners not to worry about the Covid vaccines working against new strains of the virus.

Speaking on AskJVT, Prof Van-Tam said the issue is a "science concern," but said he "really didn't want any listeners to be too worried at this point."

He said it was a "normal situation" that the virus would mutate, as is the case with the flu, where the vaccine is changed annually to "match what we think is going to be circulating in the winter."

Read more: Jonathan Van-Tam tells LBC he is 'comfortable' with Covid vaccine second dose delay

The emergence of more infectious strains of Covid-19 in the UK and South Africa has raised concerns about the ability of the vaccines to continue to offer protection.

Asked what would would happen if the current vaccines were not compatible with new variants of the virus, Professor Van-Tam told Nick Ferrari: "The first thing to say is that I understand that this is a science concern.

"It really is a science concern that the virus can change, and that we have to be on our guard to make sure that the virus doesn't outwit the vaccines we have.

"This is a normal situation, if you think about it, for winter flu vaccines, where we have to change the strain every year to match what we think is going to be circulating in the winter.

"Now, that science work, with the variant in the UK, with the South African variant, is all under way at Porton Down, and we will be getting results from that in due course, but it is slow and difficult work to do, and so it is not a case of you do a quick test and you get an answer a day later.

"So whilst that is a science concern, I really don't want any listeners to be too worried at this point.

"There are two reasons for that: One is that we know that the vaccines make what we call a polyclonal response – they make lots of different antibodies to different types and therefore the idea that a mutation of the virus would in one go outwit the whole of the vaccine is pretty low.

"So if we were to see an effect, it would be a small degradation rather than going off a cliff. I don’t think that's something we feel that is very likely but it’s something that scientifically we have to get to the bottom of.”

Prof Van-Tam also told LBC people are likely to need regular coronavirus vaccines in the same way as the flu jab.

He said he "can't say whether [the vaccine will be needed] every year yet" but conceded he did not think "we will ever eradicate” the virus.

He added: “What I think we will do over time is to make it largely vaccine preventable in the same way that flu is and be able to live with it safely.”

England's deputy CMO said the virus will “change anyway over time” and therefore "we may need to reformulate these vaccines periodically”.