Low Covid hospitalisation rates in England show vaccines are protecting people against Delta variant

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  • The Delta Covid variant does not appear to be driving a surge in hospitalisations in England where vaccination rates are high.
  • This is based on data recently released by Public Health England.
  • The UK is currently administering the two-dose vaccines by Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca, as well as the single-dose vaccine by J&J.

Numbers of Covid-19 cases have been rising sharply in the UK during the last few weeks. However, despite this, restrictions in England are set to be lifted on 19 July. 

The UK’s health secretary, Sajid Javid, stated that doing so is “uncharted territory”, as the government expects case numbers to reach 50 000 a day by this time, according to The Guardian

But the latest data released by Public Health England (PHE) show that hospitalisation rates in England remain low. The data suggest that this may be attributable to the high vaccination rate in the UK, which appears to be protective against severe Covid disease caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant. 

This variant is currently dominating infections in the UK and has spread to more than 85 countries worldwide, including South Africa.

More than 44 million people (around 85% of the population) in the UK have now had their first dose of a Covid vaccine, according to the BBC

The overall vaccine uptake in England, as of 30 June, was 85% for people who had received the first dose and 63% for people who had received both jabs and were fully vaccinated, the UK government’s dashboard indicates. 

Relaxing restrictions

“What I can say is, it makes sense [to relax restrictions] because of the vaccines and the way they are working that people that are double vaccinated are treated differently to people who are not. And that’s what I’ll be saying in parliament,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The PHE report shows that from 21 to 27 June, the weekly hospitalisation rate was 1.9 admissions per 100 000 people – the same as the previous week. 

And while the hospitalisation figures have slightly increased over the last month (rising to 1.1 per 100 000 people), it remains considerably lower when compared to England’s previous Covid surge, which saw more than 35 admissions per 100 000 people, according to The New York Times

“Covid-19 hospitalisations remained stable in week 25. Deaths with Covid-19 remained stable in week 25,” wrote the researchers of the PHE report.

Vaccines rolled out in the UK

The UK currently has four Covid vaccines approved for use. They are the vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson (J&J). All the vaccines, except the single-dose vaccine by Janssen, require two shots to best protect against Covid-19.

All four companies have stated that their vaccines are protective against the Delta variant. Preliminary findings by researchers in England show that the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines protect fully vaccinated people against Delta, compared with the Alpha variant first identified in the UK.

While recent Israeli government data indicate that the Pfizer vaccine was less effective at preventing people from catching Covid infection in Israel, it showed that it continued to provide strong protection against severe Covid illness, reports Bloomberg. According to the Health Ministry, it was 93% effective at preventing hospitalisation.

J&J vaccine

As for whether the J&J vaccine will need a booster dose (of the mRNA vaccine by Pfizer or Moderna) for it to be effective against this concerning variant, Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, co-lead investigator of the J&J Sisonke study in SA, last week said that it won’t be necessary at this stage.

Bekker told Health24 that according to test tube data the J&J jab was more effective against Delta than against the Beta variant that was responsible for the second wave infections in SA, and that the level of antibodies remains high for at least a few months post-vaccination.

“So the durability is reassuring. And from that, we may confer that protection continues for some time. Therefore, we think that a booster dose at this stage in our healthcare worker Sisonke trial is premature. And we should continue to wait for more data to figure out whether – and when – a booster should be given,” she said.

On 1 July, the company confirmed this by announcing that their vaccine “generated strong, persistent activity against the rapidly spreading Delta variant and other highly prevalent SARS-CoV-2 viral variants”.

They added: “The data showed that the durability of the immune response lasted through at least eight months, the length of time evaluated to date.” The preliminary data were submitted to preprint service bioRxiv

Both the Pfizer and J&J vaccines are currently being administered in South Africa.

*For more Covid-19 research, science, and news, click here. You can also sign up for our Daily Dose newsletter here.

READ | Covid-19: Why may infection with Delta variant cause different symptoms? An expert explains

READ | J&J Covid vaccine and the Delta variant: Booster shot not needed at this stage

READ | What we know about the CoronaVac Covid-19 vaccine

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