United Kingdom

Low vaccine uptake fuels Indian variant fear because of 'vaccine hesitancy'

Low vaccine uptake could be driving the Indian variant's spread, figures suggest.

With 400 cases recorded, London has the highest levels of the variant – accounting for almost a third of cases in the whole country – according to Public Health England.

Yet only around a quarter of these cases involved people who had travelled back from India, suggesting more widespread community transmission.

And the true scale of infections in London and elsewhere is likely to be much higher as these figures, the latest available, only refer to cases sequenced up to May 12.

People in Bolton queue for Covid-19 vaccination at the ESSA Academy in Lever's Edge area on Monday May 17. Case rates in Bolton are over 12 times the current national average

The capital also has some of the highest levels of vaccine hesitancy, separate data shows, with below-average uptake among all age groups.

Experts are worried that the new strain is up to 50 per cent more transmissible than the UK [Kent] variant and will become dominant here.

While ministers are confident existing Covid jabs are likely to be effective, they warn millions are yet to be vaccinated which could prompt a third wave and fill hospitals again.

NHS figures show that vaccine uptake among all over-40s, which is at 83 per cent average across England, is below average in all but one (Sefton) of the Indian variant hotspot areas. Although experts do not think the at-risk older age groups are the ones driving outbreaks at the moment, it could be cause for concern if the virus spreads to them 

Heat maps of where the Indian variant has become most common (left) and where vaccine uptake is lowest (right) show that the same areas are doing badly on both counts – the North West, the Midlands and London. These are the most urban and most populated parts of the country, which are known to be worse affected by outbreaks and have been throughout the pandemic

A PHE report shows the North West had the second-highest number of cases up to May 12. By then there had been 319 detected – more than a quarter of all cases – with less than 8 per cent the result of travellers coming back from India.

Yesterday, Matt Hancock told MPs cases had doubled in the past week with 483 detected in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen and blamed vaccine hesitancy for rising hospitalisations.

The Health Secretary said: 'The majority of people in hospital [in Bolton] with coronavirus were eligible for the jab but have chosen not yet to have the jab and have ended up in hospital.

A No10 spokesman said: 'We are not complacent and there are a number of different approaches we're taking with vaccine-hesitant groups.'

Hancock says India variant poses 'real risk' but vaccines can cope 

By James Tapsfield, Political Editor for MailOnline

Matt Hancock said the Indian variant poses a 'real risk' but current vaccines do appear to offer protection. 

In a statement to the Commons Monday evening, the Health Secretary said 2,323 cases of B.1617.2 had now been confirmed in the UK – 483 in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen.

But Mr Hancock said the strain did not appear to be 'penetrating' vulnerable older groups that have been vaccinated. 

He appealed for people to take up the offer of a vaccine saying it 'will help us all get out of this pandemic'.

The Health Secretary said: 'It has been really heartening, I am sure the whole House will agree, to see the videos that have been published over the weekend of people queuing up to get the jab.

'To anyone who feels hesitant, not just in Bolton or Blackburn, but to anyone who feels hesitant about getting the vaccine right across the country, just look at what is happening in Bolton Hospital where the majority of people in hospital with coronavirus were eligible for the jab but have chosen not yet to have the jab and have ended up in hospital – some of them in intensive care.

'Vaccines save lives, they protect you, they protect your loved ones and they will help us all get out of this pandemic.'

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