Three out of four people in England now have antibodies against Covid, a major Government surveillance study revealed today.
Updated figures from the Office for National Statistics showed 76 per cent of adults had signs of immunity either from past infection or inoculation, in the week ending May 3.
The number — an estimate based on random blood testing of around 20,000 adults — shows the continuous rise of population protection, which top scientists and ministers believe will squash any third outbreak and slash the numbers of people getting severe Covid and dying in future.
Antibodies, which are virus-specific immune substances made to block infections, are only detected in people who have had Covid in the past or who have had a vaccine – this is now a majority of people in the UK.
A total of 38.2million people in Britain have had at least one dose and 23.2m have been fully vaccinated with both, Government figures show.
Coverage with antibodies is higher in older people, who were the first to get jabs, with 92 per cent or more of over-65s testing positive for immunity in the ONS survey. It is highest in over-80s, among whom 98 per cent of people have some degree of protection from the virus.
In most cases the antibodies are expected to stop people from getting seriously ill or dying if they catch the coronavirus. In some people they will also completely prevent infection and stop them spreading the illness.
Protection is similar across the different countries within the UK and in different regions within England, the report shows, although vaccine uptake is lower than average in London – but antibody levels are still high, showing more people have been infected.
The report comes as the NHS today opened up its vaccine programme to 30- and 31-year-olds with vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi yesterday promising the immunisation drive was heading for a ‘big’ fortnight.
He told MPs his ‘absolute focus’ was that the campaign continued at pace because ‘the faster we can move the vaccination programme, the sooner we can end those restrictions’.
Protection is similar across the different countries within the UK and in different regions within England, the report shows. The highest figure was in Wales, where 76.6 per cent of people were positive for antibodies, and the lowest was in Scotland with 68.6 per cent
Test results show that antibody levels are highest in the older age groups, with almost total coverage in the elderly, with slightly lower levels in the middle-aged groups who were later to get the vaccines, and significantly lower in young adults who have not yet been mass vaccinated
Nearly three quarters of all adults in the UK – 38million – have now received their first dose of the vaccine and almost half – 23.2 million – have had both doses
No10’s vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi yesterday promised a ‘big week this week and a big week next week’ for Britain’s inoculation drive
The ONS report comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday praised the ‘phenomenal pace’ of the vaccination programme.
The Government is well on track to meet its target of giving all adults their first dose by the end of July, with vaccines likely to be offered to people in their twenties later this week.
Data up to May 24 shows an extra 122,379 people got their first dose and 332,955 more had their second.
Around 580,000 people are now getting jabbed every day, with the rate having risen consistently since the start of May. The drive peaked at around 600,000 daily doses towards the end of March.
Nationally, there were 2,493 new Covid cases recorded and 15 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
Health officials have sped up the jab timetable to offer everyone over 50 their second doses within eight weeks in a bid to ensure that those at highest risk are protected from the Indian variant.
Under-40s are being offered either the Moderna or Pfizer jabs due to a very rare link between the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab and blood clots.
Mr Hancock said: ‘Our vaccination programme is moving at such a phenomenal pace and I am delighted that less than six months after Margaret Keenan received the first authorised jab in the world, we are now able to open the offer to everyone in their thirties and over.
‘The vaccine is our way out of this pandemic and recent data has shown the life-saving protection [that] a second dose of the jab can give, especially against the new variant.
‘I urge everyone to come forward when you get the offer and play a part in getting us back to normality.’
EVEN MILD COVID CASES MAY PRODUCE LONG-LASTING ANTIBODIES
People with mild cases of COVID-19 still have an antibody response nearly one year after clearing the infection, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis said that reports early on in the pandemic claiming that coronavirus antibodies wane quickly were misleading.
Their findings revealed that immune cells in bone marrow are still making antibodies even after levels in the blood decline.
Results showed that patients had neutralizing antibodies seven to 11 months later – and the team suggests they may even have protection for life.
‘Last fall, there were reports that antibodies wane quickly after infection..and mainstream media interpreted that to mean that immunity was not long-lived,’ said senior author Dr Ali Ellebedy, an associate professor of pathology and immunology, medicine and molecular microbiology at Washington University, in a news release.
‘But that’s a misinterpretation of the data. It’s normal for antibody levels to go down after acute infection, but they don’t go down to zero; they plateau.
‘Here, we found antibody-producing cells in people 11 months after first symptoms. These cells will live and produce antibodies for the rest of people’s lives. That’s strong evidence for long-lasting immunity.’
Mr Zahawi yesterday told the Commons that he was ‘cautiously optimistic that we are in a good place’ to ease all restrictions on June 21.
MPs praised the Government for the ‘scale and pace’ of the coronavirus vaccination programme.
One Tory labelled it a ‘marvellous achievement’ and asked when guidance would be relaxed to allow choirs to finally practice indoors again, given the success of the inoculation drive.
Mr Zahawi said: ‘The faster we can move the vaccination programme, the sooner we can end those restrictions.
‘Therefore, my absolute focus — and my commitment to him — is that we continue at pace. We have a big week this week and a big week next week.’
GP and national medical director for primary care for the NHS in England, Dr Nikki Kanani, said: ‘Getting the vaccine is the single most important step we can take to protect ourselves, our families and our communities against Covid-19 with the jabs saving thousands of lives already.
‘The offer of a vaccine doesn’t expire so, if you are eligible and haven’t booked, please do come forward when you’re invited to.’
NHS leaders in Scotland are encouraging people aged 30 and over to come forward for their jab and in Northern Ireland, those aged 25 and over are eligible for the vaccine. In Wales the invitation is now open to everyone over the age of 18.
Moderna has shown its jab can protect 12 to 17-year-olds against the virus, with side effects similar to those experienced by adults. The results, from a trial of more than 3,000 children, come as the US is already vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds.
It follows similar trial results from Pfizer, which reported in March that its vaccine was 100 per cent effective.
In Bolton, teenagers have already been inoculated in a frantic effort to contain the Indian variant, and London mayor Sadiq Khan has called for ‘flexibility’ to give jabs to younger people in parts of the capital affected by the strain.
Public Health England analysis over the weekend found a single dose of AstraZeneca or Pfizer’s jab was slightly weaker against the Indian variant compared to the Kent one, which triggered the country’s devastating second wave.
Both jabs were only 33 per cent effective at blocking symptoms of the Indian strain three weeks after one dose, compared to 50 per cent against the Kent variant.
Officials said it highlighted the importance of getting both injections.
But the PHE data found two doses the vaccines were equally effective against both strains, which has bolstered hopes that hospitalisations and deaths will never reach the peaks of previous waves.