Professor Tim Spector, a King’s College London epidemiologist who runs the UK’s largest Covid symptom tracking study, said the epidemic had ‘mainly’ been squashed by the ‘exemplar vaccine programme’.
With more than 60 per cent of the population vaccinated with at least one dose and up to 10 per cent of people protected due to prior infection, Professor Spector said Britain was getting close to achieving ‘herd immunity’.
His study of more than a million Britons showed daily cases have fallen by 17 per cent in the last week, with an estimated 1,600 new symptomatic cases a day across the country, down from 60,000 at the January peak.
Professor Spector said: ‘As the UK slowly exits lockdown, I’m encouraged to see Covid cases continue to fall with our rates among the lowest in Europe.
‘In fact, the UK closely mirrors cases in Israel with its exemplar vaccine programme. Based on our data and countries like Israel, I believe the fall in cases since January is mainly thanks to the vaccination programme and less about the strict lockdown the UK has been under since late December.
‘With up to 60 per cent of the population vaccinated and around 5 to 10 per cent with natural immunity due to infection, we’re starting to see herd immunity take effect.
‘This should prevent future large-scale outbreaks. However, we do expect to see smaller, manageable outbreaks in the coming weeks and months among groups which are yet to be vaccinated.’
It comes after Mr Johnson warned the reduction in Covid infections, hospitalisations and deaths was down to lockdowns and ‘has not been achieved’ by the rollout of vaccines.
In a significant toning down of his praise for the jabs, the Prime Minister said the ‘bulk of the work in reducing the disease had been done by the lockdown’.
King’s College London’s study of more than a million Britons showed daily cases have fallen by 17 per cent in the last week, with an estimated 1,600 new symptomatic cases a day across the country
With more than 60 per cent of the population vaccinated with at least one dose and up to 10 per cent of people protected due to prior infection, Professor Tim Spector said Britain was getting close to achieving ‘herd immunity’
Today’s figures from the Covid Symptom Study UK Infection Survey, ran by researchers at King’s and health tech firm ZOE, are based on around one million weekly users of the app.
Estimates were made based on users’ feedback and almost 6,000 recent swab tests done between March 27 and April 10.
The researchers believe about one in 2,000 people across Britain are carrying the disease at any given time, bringing the R value to 0.8.
The found on average there were 1,601 daily cases across the UK in the most recent recording period, compared to 1,924 daily infections the week before.
Professor Spector said the UK was on the cusp of achieving herd immunity, when so much of a population has protection against a virus through vaccines or previous infection that it starts to decline naturally.
Experts are torn over the exact percentage needed to achieve herd immunity but believe it will be at least 75 per cent.
However, true herd immunity will likely only be attained if there is even jab coverage around the country. In London, uptake rates have been below 60 per cent in some parts, compared to more than 80 per cent in most other areas.
Despite the wealth of evidence showing the success of the jabs, the Prime Minister claimed yesterday that lockdown – not vaccinations – were driving down infections, hospitalisations and deaths.
The prime minister, speaking the day after the latest easing of lockdown restrictions saw pub gardens, shops, gyms and haridressers reopen, said it was the national shutdown that had been ‘overwhelmingly important’ in driving down rates.
Dpeaking in Downing Street, Mr Johnson said: ‘The numbers are down – of infections and hospitalisations and deaths. But it is very, very important for everybody to understand that the reduction in these numbers – in hospitalisations and in deaths and infections – has not been achieved by the vaccination programme.
‘People don’t, I think, appreciate that it’s the lockdown that has been overwhelmingly important in delivering this improvement in the pandemic and in the figures that we’re seeing.
‘And so, yes of course the vaccination programme has helped, but the bulk of the work in reducing the disease has been done by the lockdown.
‘So, as we unlock, the result will inevitably be that we will see more infection, sadly we will see more hospitalisation and deaths, and people have just got to understand that.’
The comments marked a significant shift in tone by the PM, who has repeatedly hailed the vaccines as a ‘one-way road to freedom’ and said they had ‘thrown a shield’ around the entire population.
One top coronavirus expert told MailOnline today Mr Johnson’s comments were ‘slightly misleading’, adding that they believed he was attempting to get people to comply with remaining lockdown rules.
WHAT IS ‘HERD IMMUNITY’?
Herd immunity is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection.
Effectively, it means that once people have some form of immunity, it reduces the ability of a disease to spread among the population.
Therefore, someone who has antibodies either through previous infection or vaccines, acts as a ‘barrier’ to the virus.
If you have enough ‘barriers’ then the disease cannot effectively spread through a population.
But in the case of a new virus, such as with Covid-19, the virus can spread essentially without any barriers – which can lead to a pandemic.
The World Health Organisation says it supports achieving herd immunity through vaccination, not by allowing a disease to spread through any segment of the population.
But one expert told MailOnline that Covid-19 is here to stay and that the key is reaching a ‘herd immunity threshold’.
This keeps the virus at what is known as an endemic level – where a disease is regularly found among the population but is not harmful enough to impact on society.
Keeping Covid-19 within the herd immunity threshold, which can vary particularly in winter when diseases such as flu and coronavirus spread quickly, will mean it is kept at a ‘manageable level’, the expert added.
Research shows the current crop of Covid vaccines help by increasing the antibody response to the virus – therefore heavily reducing the risk that someone can be made seriously ill.
But data is not yet available about how effective the vaccinations are at preventing transmission.