It’s been over a year since the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in the UK, and all of us have been living with some form of restrictions for a very long time now. Along with these restrictions, people have been asked to take many extra steps to protect themselves and other people. Our lives have changed dramatically over the past year.
The ongoing roll out of the COVID vaccination programme across the UK is a cause for hope and optimism, especially when combined with the positive impact of the current lockdown on case numbers and transmission.
SPI-B, the behavioural and social science sub-group of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has recently said we should anticipate that some people may relax their adherence to protective behaviours following vaccination or as vaccine coverage increases. As we look forward to more people being vaccinated, and prepare for changes to the current restrictions, it is vitally important that we do not relax our guard and continue to support each other to follow the guidance to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The importance of vaccination
Vaccination is one of the most effective public health measures available, preventing between 2-3 billion deaths globally every year.
Vaccines work by stimulating our immune systems to make antibodies that protect us from disease, in a way that is much safer than our immune systems doing this this through catching COVID-19 and creating an immune response. Scientists have been working on COVID-19 vaccines since the start of the pandemic, pooling resources and sharing knowledge and expertise across the globe to design, test and approve vaccines at unprecedented speed. In the UK, we are seeing the successful and rapid rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, with three COVID-19 vaccines approved and others still in clinical trials. Our recent blog answers some key questions about COVID-19 vaccines.
The COVID-19 vaccines approved so far offer high levels of protection against serious illness. Whilst early indications suggest that the vaccines are also very effective at preventing transmission, they will never prevent all cases of infection or hospital admissions and we are still learning to what extent people who have been vaccinated can catch COVID-19 and pass it on to others. Until very high proportions of the population are vaccinated, we must continue to protect each other by practicing the behaviours we have become accustomed to.
A winning combination: vaccination and protective behaviours
We understand that many people feel relieved and excited to receive their vaccines and when they hear about friends and family members getting vaccinated. After a long and difficult winter, it may feel like life is finally starting to become normal again. However, while we continue to work through the priority lists for vaccination – with the goal of offering a vaccine to all adults in the UK by the end of July – we all still need to follow public health advice. Vaccines are just one element of a return to normal, neither vaccines nor testing are a silver bullet and all our protective behaviours remain as important as ever.
Protect yourself and others
By now, we are all familiar with the key actions to take to reduce the spread of COVID-19. These include keeping a safe distance from others, limiting social or physical contact, wearing face-coverings, letting fresh air into our homes, washing our hands several times a day and making sure we cover our nose and mouth when we cough and sneeze.
Recent PHE guidance provides a helpful reminder of these actions and explains the importance, as well as the why, of each them in helping reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Remember that it is possible to have COVID-19 without any symptoms, and to pass it on to other people even if we have no symptoms or only very mild ones. When someone with COVID-19 breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes, they release particles containing the virus that causes COVID-19. These particles can be breathed in by another person, and people can also become infected by touching surfaces and belongings contaminated with COVID-19. All the actions together play an important part in reducing the chances of catching and spreading COVID-19.
Even if you have been vaccinated, don’t forget the symptoms of COVID-19 and have a plan of what to do if you need to self-isolate, whether you develop symptoms, have a positive test or are notified that you are a contact of someone with COVID-19. If you are instructed to self-isolate you must do so because there is still a risk that you might spread infection to others, even if you have been vaccinated and feel entirely well yourself.
Talk to your family and other people around you now and plan for how you could have shopping and other supplies brought to you if you have to self-isolate at short notice. Talk to your employer about any plans they have in place to support you to self-isolate. More information about the importance of self-isolation and the support you can receive can be found here.
The successful roll out of the vaccination programme should give us every reason to be hopeful in 2021. Getting vaccinated when it is offered to you, and crucially – continuing to take action to reduce the risk of transmitting or catching COVID-19 – are the best ways for us to limit the impact of the pandemic until the virus is under control and every person in the UK has had the chance to be fully vaccinated.
For more information on the impact of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, read our blog looking at first vaccine effectiveness and what this means.
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Contributor: Richard Amlôt