Coronavirus cases will not “noticeably decrease” until the second half of 2021, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) expert has said, despite the introduction of vaccines.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove warned that because younger people spread the virus more than older people, cases will only come down as the young begin to receive their jabs.
She said governments will need to keep “public health measures for a long time”.
In places like the UK, older people and those more at risk of the virus are to be prioritised, with young people who aren’t at as much risk coming after.
Speaking to Der Spiegel in Germany, Dr Van Kerkhove said: “The number of cases will not noticeably decrease due to the vaccination until the second half of 2021.
“Initially, it is mainly the elderly and high-risk patients who are to be immunised.
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“It is good to protect them from the disease, hopefully this will greatly reduce the number of deaths; on the other hand, they do not spread the virus as much as younger people.”
The infectious disease epidemiologist, who has fronted televised WHO briefings on coronavirus, continued: “Only with the vaccination of younger people will the number of cases decrease. For the time being, vaccination is just another weapon in our arsenal, but not a panacea.
“Unfortunately, we will have to keep up the public health measures for a long time.”
In the UK, it was recommended that care home residents and their carers should be first to receive a coronavirus vaccine, followed by people aged over 80 and frontline health and social care workers.
The next priority groups are people aged over 75, then people over 70 and the “clinically extremely vulnerable”.
Those over 65 are recommended to follow those groups, then anyone aged 16-64 with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk from COVID-19.
The final priority groups for phase one of the vaccination programme are over 60s, over 55s and over 50s. All the above groups represent 99% of preventable coronavirus deaths, the government website states.
Groups such as first responders, people serving in the military and teachers could also be prioritised for phase two, due to their increased risk of catching COVID-19 from their jobs.
It was announced on Wednesday that 137,897 people have been given the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the UK. Some 108,000 people have been given a dose in England and 18,000 have been jabbed in Scotland.
A total of 7,897 people were given a dose in Wales, while 4,000 had received it in Northern Ireland.
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