LONDON — British health officials expressed optimism May 23 that the coronavirus restrictions remaining in England can be lifted in June after an official study found that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines offer effective protection against the variant first identified in India.
Authorities in Britain have expressed concern in recent weeks that increasing cases of that variant could jeopardize the U.K.’s so-far successful plan to reopen its economy. More than 2,880 cases of the variant have been recorded in England, figures show.
The government has said the variant appears to be more transmissible, but there was still uncertainty about how concerning this was.
Jenny Harries, chief executive of the U.K. Health Security Agency, said officials in England are on track to proceed with the final stage of unlocking the country from June 21 if the public remains cautious.
“It’s looking good if people are continuing to observe all of the safety signals,” she told the BBC. However, she warned that the variant is starting to become the dominant strain in parts of northwestern England, and people in hotspot areas need to be vigilant.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock also said he was “increasingly confident” the country can follow its unlocking plans.
Their comments came after a study by Public Health England found that two doses of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines offer “high levels of protection” against symptomatic disease from the variant first identified in India.
The study, which took place between April 5 and May 16, found that the Pfizer vaccine is 88% effective against the variant after two doses, while the AstraZeneca jab was 60% effective after both doses.
Both vaccines were only 33% effective against symptomatic disease from the variant three weeks after the first dose.