UK health officials said the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues as the dominant strain of coronavirus and marked a sharp increase in the UK with 54,268 more cases logged on Friday, which marks a 32 per cent increase over the previous week.
Public Health England (PHE) said its weekly analysis shows the continued rise in infections is not followed by a similar increase in hospitalisations and deaths, which reflects a high protection offered by both doses of a coronavirus vaccine.
In a separate study, PHE also found that all the vaccines being administered are as effective at preventing symptomatic disease in the majority of people with underlying health conditions as the rest of the population.
“The data continues to show that the sharp increase in cases that we are seeing is not being followed by a similar increase in hospitalisation and death,” said Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency.
“This is because two doses of the available vaccines offer a high level of protection against the Delta variant. Getting both jabs is the best way to ensure you and the people you love remain safe, so we once again urge everyone to come forward as soon as they are eligible,” she said.
“As we approach the planned end of restrictions, we must remain cautious and careful. Cases are rising across the country, and whilst the vaccines offer excellent protection, they do not offer 100 per cent protection,” she added.
The weekly PHE data found the Delta AY.1 sub lineage, so-called Delta plus mutation for its feared vaccine resistance, remains low at 44 cases. Overall, the Delta variant – first identified in India – currently accounts for approximately 99 per cent of cases that are sequenced across the UK, followed by the local Alpha variant of concern. ` In a variant technical briefing, PHE revealed that “secondary attack rates” – the likelihood of an infection occurring in a given context – amongst household contacts of cases with Delta has continued to fall. Despite this continued fall, secondary attack rates for both household and non-household contacts of cases with Delta remain higher than for Alpha.
Overall vaccine effectiveness
In its separate vaccine study, PHE found overall vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease in risk groups at approximately 60 per cent after one dose of either Oxford AstraZeneca [Covishield] or Pfizer/BioNTech, with little variation by age. After two doses, vaccine effectiveness is 81 per cent with Oxford/AstraZeneca in people in risk groups aged 16 to 64. No data is available for both doses of Pfizer/BioNTech yet.
Diabetes, severe asthma, chronic heart disease, chronic kidney disease, chronic liver disease, neurological disease, and diseases or therapies that weaken the immune system – such as blood cancer, HIV or chemotherapy – have all been linked to an increased risk of hospitalisation or death with COVID-19.
“This real-world data shows for the first time that most people who are clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 still receive high levels of protection after two doses of vaccine,” said Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at PHE.
“It is vital that anyone with an underlying condition gets both doses, especially people with weakened immune systems as they gain so much more benefit from the second dose,” she said.
The UK government is to confirm on Monday its plans to end all legal lockdown legal restrictions in the country from July 19. Doctors and medical leaders have been calling on the government to keep some measures, such as face masks in indoor settings, in place as the infections continue to rise.
In a statement, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which represents 23 medical bodies responsible for training and development in various specialties, said it was essential that people took a responsible approach when restrictions were formally lifted.
It warned that there was “little doubt that things will get worse before they get better”.
The warning comes as the UK logged 35,707 daily coronavirus cases on Friday, the highest daily figure this year since January 22.