The Covid-19 vaccine appeared to have “broken the chain” between catching coronavirus and becoming seriously ill, the chief executive of NHS Providers has said.
Chris Hopson said the number of people in hospital with the Covid-19 Delta variant, first detected in India, was not increasing “very significantly”.
He told BBC Breakfast that many of those in hospital in Bolton – which has the highest number of cases of the Delta variant in England – were younger than in previous waves of the pandemic.
It is understood some GPs in Bolton have started offering second doses of the vaccines after 28 days, in the face of pressure not to waste supply.
Some patients were believed to have been contacted by text message to say they were eligible for a second jab after four weeks, rather than the eight to 12-week gap advised by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
Comments on the NHS Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group Facebook page indicated 16 and 17-year-olds were being offered a vaccine.
Speaking about hospitals, Hopson said on Saturday: “The people who came in this time round were actually a lot younger and were a lot less at risk of very serious complication, less at risk of death, and what that means is that they were less demand on critical care.
“What we think we can start to say now, based on that experience, is that it does look as though the vaccines have broken the chain between catching Covid-19 and potentially being very, very seriously ill and potentially dying. There were very, very few people who have had those double jabs and had been able to have that buildup of protection after those jabs.”
Hopson added that in the most recent phase of the pandemic, the number of people in hospital in Bolton with Covid-19 peaked at 50, compared with 170 in November and 150 in January and February.
“Infection rates have been increasing in a number of different places,” Hopson said. “We know that the hospitalisations are increasing, the rates of people coming into hospital in those areas are rising. But they are not rising very significantly.”
Of the 12,431 Delta variant cases so far confirmed in the UK, 10,797 were in England, 1,511 in Scotland, 97 in Wales and 26 in Northern Ireland.
In England, the cases were spread across the country. The most affected areas include Bolton in Greater Manchester (2,149 cases), Blackburn with Darwen in Lancashire (724), Bedford (608), Leicester (349), Manchester (278) and Birmingham (223).
Dr Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the transmissibility of the Delta variant could see a “big number” of people admitted to hospital with coronavirus.
A member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) government advisory panel, Kucharski told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there were a “number of concerning signs” following early evidence that first-dose vaccines were not as effective against the Delta variant.
He added: “I think it is particularly this increase in transmission that is potentially going to cause us considerable problems.”
Kurcharski said the current picture meant that it was “hard to be confident” that a “big number” of people will not end up in hospital due to the spread of the Delta variant and the number of adults still unvaccinated in the UK.