Pandemic could last another 18 months, but ‘every six months’ will be better than last, says Whitty


“Every six months will be better than the last six months,” England’s chief medical officer said, predicting it could be “maybe 18 months” until a wide range of vaccines covers all variants of the coronavirus.

Professor Chris Whitty said it is likely that COVID vaccines and antiviral drugs will do “almost all of the heavy lifting” when it comes to tackling future strains – unless they are “vastly different”.

He told the House of Commons Health and Social Services Committee: “If I look into the future, I look forward to a number of years – maybe 18 months, maybe a little less. , maybe a little more – that we will have polyvalent vaccines, which will cover a much wider range, and we will probably have several antivirals. “

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The virus will “always be a problem”

He added that “every six months will be better than the last six months” when it comes to fighting. the virus.

“I think what will happen is the risks will gradually decrease over time. It’s gradual, it’s not a sudden thing,” he said.

“But I think every six months will be better than the last six months. How fast that will be… it’s always dangerous to predict science.”

He said: “It will always be a problem, some years it will be a big problem.”

Omicron R number between 3 and 5

This comes from the fact that data revealed that each person infected with the Omicron COVID variant would transmit it to between three and five others on average, a senior government science official said.

UK Health Security Agency chief medical adviser Dr Susan Hopkins told MPs on the Commons Health Committee that for Omicron the UK R-value is between 3 and 5.

The number of cases is spreading rapidly – doubling in size every other day.

The current R-value of the Delta outbreak in the UK is estimated to be between 1.1 and 1.2.

Dr Hopkins also told the hearing that reliable data on Omicron would not be available until the week between Christmas and New Years at the earliest, and may not appear until early January.

There are currently 15 people being treated in hospital with Omicron, she added.

This number must reach 250 before a meaningful assessment can be made of the severity of the variant and the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Dr Hopkins said steps were being taken to improve “data matching” and new figures would be released on Thursday afternoon.

Professor Whitty clarified, “The actual number will be much larger than that (15). It is just the number that is proven, just to be clear.”

Omicron can peak quickly – and drop quickly too

Professor Whitty added that “the gist” about Omicron is that it “is going to be really focused over a very short period of time, most likely.”

Omicron can peak quickly, and drop quickly too, the CMO told MPs.

“I think what we’ll see with this – and I think we’re seeing it in South Africa – is that the recovery will be incredibly quick, even if people take more careful steps, as they are.

“It’s going to help slow him down, but it’s still going to be really quick.

“It will probably peak very quickly. My anticipation is that it could then drop faster than previous peaks, but I wouldn’t say that for sure. I’m just saying it’s a possibility. “

Daily COVID hospital admissions could exceed January record

Professor Whitty also said it was “entirely possible” that the number of daily hospital admissions due to the Omicron variant surpassed the record set for COVID in January.

Committee chairman MP Jeremy Hunt asked if the previous peak – 4,583 – could be exceeded.

He replied, “It’s possible – because it’s going to be very concentrated – that even though it’s softer, because it’s focused over a short period of time, you might end up with a higher number than that. to go to the hospital on a single day – it’s entirely possible. “

But he added that it could be less than that, and that there are still “huge uncertainties”.

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Professor Whitty said the time people spend in hospital is an important indicator of pressure on the NHS.

He explained: “If, for example, people stay in the hospital for a shorter period, because they are protected by a prior vaccination, it means that the total number could still be lower even though the maximum number per. day is higher. “


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