And Sir David, chairman of Independent SAGE, has warned there is no easy way out of the current situation the UK – and the world – finds itself in, describing the concept of herd immunity as “wishful thinking”. Speaking at the start of a week in which pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced its experimental treatment was more than 90 percent effective based on early findings, Sir David, chairman of Independent SAGE, neverthless cautioned against rushing the process.
With more than 50million COVID-19 cases worldwide, including almost 1.2million in the UK, where there have been almost 50,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre, the pressure is on to develop an effective vaccine.
With cases spiking, Britain is currently in the midst of another lockdown which will last until at least December 2 in a bid to slow the spread of the disease.
However, it is widely acknowledged that there is little prospect of things returning to anything close to normal without a way of preventing people from contracting the illness in the first place.
Sir David King has said it was crucial for any vaccine to be effective
Pfizer’s tweet about its vaccine
Once they start immunising millions and millions of people, if we start getting a million deaths or so from the vaccine, that will be the end of vaccinations
Sir David, speaking prior to Pfizer’s announcement, told Express.co.uk: “There is one short cut and that’s a vaccine.
“We hear a lot of stories about a vaccine but you must never let a vaccine into the population at large until it has been tested endlessly.
“Because once they start immunising millions and millions of people, if we start getting a million deaths or so from the vaccine, that will be the end of vaccinations.
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A coronavirus vaccine would offer a shortcut to normality, said Sir David
“So the testing has to be allowed to run until it has finally been proven okay.”
Such an outcome would play into the hands of so-called anti-vaxxers who do not believe in vaccinations full stop, Sir David said.
Sir David, who held the post under Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, added: “We’ll have kids dying of measles, mumps – these things used to happen regularly when I was a kid.”
Another potential solution which has been floated by some scientists centres on herd immunity, in other words letting COVID-19 rip through the population.
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The coronavirus which causes COVID-19
Coronavirus cases in the UK
However, Sir David, Emeritus Professor in physical chemistry at the University of Cambridge, said: “That’s a piece of wishful thinking.
“Here’s the problem: if we start thinking not of separating off the sick people, but the people who are vulnerable, first of all we have to know who is vulnerable.
“And then you have to make sure that they are fully isolated from everybody else in the whole population.
“We have living with us my wife’s mother, and of course she is vulnerable.
“There are many, many houses in this situation who are multi-generation, children, parents and grandparents, particularly in areas like east Birmingham, the poorer areas of our cities.
“So how do you isolate the vulnerable?
“And it is not just the old people, it is people with asthma and other conditions which make you vulnerable.
“I believe that if you are going to pick up the two percent of people who die when you get it, you would probably need to isolate ten percent, because you can’t tell anybody who is going to die. “So it is a piece of nonsense.”
Coronavirus cases worldwide
Adopting such a Darwinian approach therefore risked leaving people in the vulnerable group – including himself “on the scrapheap”, he admitted.
Sir David said: “I am in my 80s but I don’t actually feel that I am close to the end.
“But I know damn well that I would be very vulnerable if I got it.”
New York-based Pfizer today announced interim results based on data from a large study, hailing its findings as a huge victory in the fight against the disease.