When will we see the effect of the vaccination programme?

Published 21 January 2021

An impressive 5 million people have now had their first shot of a vaccine in the UK. With around 350,000 vaccinations per day, the UK will be vaccinating over 2 million people per week - arguably ahead of expectations. But when will we start to see the effect of this enormous effort and what might we expect? Vaccinations rates have increased steadily over the past few weeks focusing priority groups - care home residents and workers, over 80s, health and social care workers, over 70s, and the extremely vulnerable under 70s. Prioritising the vaccine in the over 80s who have a higher mortality rate for Covid-19 means that we should start to see a drop in the proportion of deaths accounted for by this group first. The chart below shows this % over time, along with the total reported daily deaths.

There are not yet any discernible downward trends in either data, but this is to be expected. Once vaccinated there are around 14 days before there is protection. Combined with low vaccination rates in December, and an average 17-day delay between infection and death, we would not expect to see the benefit of vaccinations until mid-February. Expect lots of data watching! There are many reasons that the benefit will be hard to see or smaller than hoped (and why test and trace really is still critical). These include factors, such as vaccine rates that are higher in groups of people who are less likely to be exposed to risk or are lower risk. There are also differences in local area vaccination rates and some worrying evidence from Israel that the one dose strategy (with second to follow) does not deliver as much benefit as hoped. And this is before considering the possibility that the vaccine will be slightly less effective against new variants.

Given the importance of the vaccination programme for removing the lockdown, it is critical to have good data. While headline vaccination rates are great, they do not tell the full story of the people offered or who is declining/receiving the vaccinations, and where they are based. These data will be critical. Pre-empting this, Ed Humperson from the Statistics Regulator has written to the UK Government requesting this additional information - read more here. Fingers crossed!

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