We could still be wearing face masks in winter 2021 - according to a chief scientific advisor

The government’s chief scientific advisor has warned people not to ditch their face masks yet, as the Covid-19 vaccination programme gets underway.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Sir Patrick Vallance said the UK is unlikely to get back to normal before spring, and that we may still be required to wear face masks by winter 2021.

‘Stick to the rules’

Speaking to Sky News, Vallance said, “It’s going to take quite a long time to make sure everybody in the at-risk groups and all of the groups that are difficult to research get vaccinated as appropriate.

“It takes time after the vaccine for the immune system to kick in.”

He explained that it takes at least a month, although possibly longer, before the full immunity of the vaccine kicks in.

“This is incredibly important and it is important that we all stick to the fulls in the meantime - the rules are what’s keeping the virus down now, we need to keep the virus down while we allow the vaccine programme to roll out,” he explained.

“It may be that next winter, even with vaccination, we need measures like masks in place - we don’t know yet how good all the vaccines are going to be at preventing the transmission of the virus.”

Vallance said that while it is known that the vaccine prevents disease, it is not yet known how well they halt the spread of the virus.

‘Covid-19 going to be around forever’

Deputy chief medical officer for England, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said that he expects the Covid-19 virus to never fully disappear.

At a Downing Street press briefing, he said, “I think it’s going to be with humankind forever. I think we may get to a point where coronavirus becomes a seasonal problem.

“I don’t want to draw too many parallels with flu but, possibly, that is the kind of way we would learn to live with it.

“Do I think there will come a moment when we can have a big party and throw our masks and hand sanitiser and say, ‘That’s it, it’s behind us’ like the end of the war? No, I don’t.”

Professor Van-Tam said that the measures we have created to protect ourselves “may persist for many years and that may be a good thing.”

He followed up by saying, “I do not think the government will continue to have to recommend social distancing, masks and hand sanitiser forever and a day. I hope we will get back to a much more normal world.”

‘Vast majority of people waiting till 2021 for vaccine’

The Covid vaccine will be distributed to people using a priority list that has been devised by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Some of the highest priority people include residents in care homes for older adults and their carers, people aged 80 years and over, and frontline health and social care workers.

Chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, has said that the majority of people over 80 will be waiting until 2021 to receive the vaccine.

Talking to the Press Association, Hopson said, “I don’t think people should expect anything over the next few days because the reality is, as I said, that for the vast, vast majority of people this will be done in January, February, March.

“And the one thing that we don’t want people to get anxious about or concerned about is ‘Where’s my letter?’ in December.

“People really shouldn’t worry if they’re over 80 and they haven’t had a letter.

“I’m sure there will be communications over the next few weeks that will tell people how quickly we are getting through the over 80s, and there will be plenty of communications to say, at the right point, if you haven’t had a letter than you should talk to your GP, but we are many weeks away from that.”

Hopson emphasised that those who haven’t heard anything about receiving the vaccine should “hang fire” and not become concerned.

“We haven’t forgotten you, and we’ll certainly tell you at the point at which you need to start worrying if you haven’t been contacted, but that will be many, many weeks away,” he said.