Jonathan Van-Tam tells LBC people 'will need regular Covid vaccine like flu jab'

13 January 2021, 10:34 | Updated: 13 January 2021, 10:57

By Patrick Grafton-Green

People are likely to need regular coronavirus vaccines in the same way as the flu jab, deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam has told LBC.

When asked by Nick Ferrari whether a similar approach to flu jabs would be needed for Covid-19 vaccines, Professor Van-Tam said: "You're absolutely right."

Speaking during AskJVT, Prof Van-Tam 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.

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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”.

“This is a normal situation... 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,” he said.

It comes amid the emergence of worrying new variants of the the virus in the UK and South Africa, which are much more transmissible than previous strains and have led to concerns the vaccine will be less effective.

“We have to be on our guard to make sure that the virus doesn’t outwit the vaccines we have,” Prof Van-Tam said.

He said it was not yet clear how long two doses of the vaccine would give protection for because there is not yet enough data, but added he believed it would "be many months”.

He continued: “We will be doing the studies to look at antibody levels in people who’ve been vaccinated and keep an eye on those over time so we can spot when they’re drifting down."

Prof Van-Tam said Public Health England would be keeping a close eye on people who are admitted to hospital with coronavirus who have had the vaccine, "because no vaccine is 100 per cent effective."

"If we start to see that the vaccine effectiveness is wearing off over time that will be another signal that we possibly need to re-vaccinate people,” he added.

Amid significant concerns within in the science community over the new variants, Prof Van Tam also said work is “under way at (the Ministry of Defence's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) Porton Down and we will be getting results in due course but it is slow and difficult work to do.”

But he added: “I really don’t want any listeners to be too worried at the this point.

“The vaccines make what will 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 vaccine is pretty low.

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

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