Matt Hancock to lead Downing Street press conference

Victoria Bell
·4 min read
Health Secretary Matt Hancock during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19). Picture date: Monday February 1, 2021.
Matt Hancock will lead a Downing Street press conference outlining the latest coronavirus updates. (PA)

Matt Hancock will lead a Downing Street press conference outlining the latest coronavirus updates on Monday, Number 10 has said.

It is unclear what the latest briefing will focus on but it is likely the health secretary will address concerns over the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines on new variants.

It comes as Britons face needing a third jab amid concerns about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine’s effectiveness against the South Africa coronavirus variant.

On Monday, Sage scientist Professor Mike Tildesley issued a warning after a study found the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab was “less effective” against the highly infectious variant.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “It means that even with high levels of vaccination there will be a lot of people that could potentially get infected and could potentially pass it on and it may mean that more restrictions might be needed for longer if we can’t get on top of this.”

Watch: South Africa puts Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines on hold

The study of around 2,000 people showed the jab only offers minimal protection against mild disease of the South Africa variant and, due to the young age of participants, could not conclude whether the jab worked against severe disease.

South Africa has suspended the rollout of the British-designed vaccine to healthcare staff following the results, which have yet to be peer reviewed.

AstraZeneca said on Sunday the fact the study into the E484K mutation involved 2,000 people who were mostly young and healthy meant it had “not been able to properly ascertain” whether it prevented against severe illness and hospital admission.

Professor Sarah Gilbert, the Oxford vaccine’s lead researcher, said her team was working on having an adapted version of their jab that could tackle the South Africa mutation – of which cases have been found in England – “available for the autumn”.

She said: “This year we expect to show that the new version of the vaccine will generate antibodies that recognise the new variant. Then it will be very much like working on flu vaccines. It looks very much like it will be available for the autumn.”

Vaccine deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi giving a statement on the the roll out of the coronavirus vaccine across the UK in the House of Commons, London.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi was forced to defend the vaccine after a new study in South Africa found it was not effective at preventing mild illness caused by the more infectious mutation. (PA)

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi was forced to defend the vaccine and urged the public to keep faith with the Oxford jab as scientists raised the prospect of having a booster dose available by the autumn.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: “While it is right and necessary to prepare for the deployment of an updated vaccine, we can take confidence from the current roll out and the protection it will provide all of us against this terrible disease.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a Covid-19 related visit to SureScreen Diagnostics in Derby. Picture date: Monday February 8, 2021.

Boris Johnson during a COVID-related visit to SureScreen Diagnostics in Derby. (PA)

“We need to be aware that even where a vaccine has reduced efficacy in preventing infection there may still be good efficacy against severe disease, hospitalisation, and death. This is vitally important for protecting the healthcare system.”

The number of people in the UK who have received a first dose of a vaccine has passed the 12 million mark, with jabs being administered at a rate of almost 1,000 per minute during a one-hour period over the weekend.

Boris Johnson said on Monday the government is "very confident" about all of the vaccines being used.

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During a visit to SureScreen Diagnostics in Derby, he told Sky News that “all of the vaccines are effective in protecting against death and serious illness”.

“We also think, in particular in the case of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, that there's good evidence it's stopping transmission as well – I think 67% reduction in transmission with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine,” he said.

Johnson is expected to give an update on the route map to ease lockdown restrictions on 22 February.