Creator of Oxford vaccine Sarah Gilbert warns vulnerable will have to shield as Covid-19 cases rise

The most vulnerable in the population may have no choice but to restart shielding after the remaining lockdown rules are removed in England on 19 July, the creator of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has warned.

The Government has not yet issued updated guidance for how 3.8 million people classed as clinically extremely vulnerable should protect themselves from Covid-19 as social distancing and compulsory mask wearing comes to an end.

Dame Sarah Gilbert, who led the Oxford vaccine team, told i: “In people who have been vaccinated and have had the two doses, they will be well protected against disease that is severe enough to put them in hospital, and against death. But that’s only about half the country have had their two doses, so that leaves about half the country I think that haven’t.

“And there are unfortunately some people with particular health conditions that mean they just don’t respond to a vaccine, and they are going to have to make sure that they are protected, probably by shielding again, if there is a lot of spread of the virus.”

New guidance for could be issued on Monday when the Prime Minister confirms whether the final lifting of restrictions is going ahead on 19 July, No 10 has suggested .

Charities and peers have demanded more clarity from the government, warning that the 3.8m are being left “in limbo” and were unable to make firm plans for after 19 July if they were going to be asked to shield.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “We’ve provided guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people throughout the pandemic and we will update that ahead of step four. If people are worried then they can speak to their GPs for advice on how to manage the risks for Covid.”

Among the clinically extremely vulnerable, 94 per cent have had at least one vaccine dose and just over 90 per cent have had a second dose. However, the vaccine is likely to work somewhat less well in those with serious pre-existing conditions and the very elderly. For the immunocompromised or immunosuppressed, being vaccinated sometimes provides very little protection at all.

Sir Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, warned that the most vulnerable were being put in a difficult position by the change of rules, saying: “If you were a shielder, would you go on the tube? I don’t think so.”

A coalition of 16 health charities has called for more Government support to go to around 500,000 people who are believed to have severely weakened immune systems, as coronavirus infections continue to rise with experts expecting a continued increase in the coming weeks.

Fiona Loud of Kidney Care UK said: “We of course understand and share the desire to return to something close to normality again, but this cannot be at the expense of thousands of lives. The needs and safety of those at risk must be considered as a matter of urgency as the country lifts the measures which were providing some protection for them.”


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