David Heymann believes 95 percent of Britons now have antibodies from the vaccine and infections. This high level of immunity may mean COVID-19 can become a disease we all can live with. It comes as four in five adults in England have received a booster shot of the vaccine following a heroic effort.
The ex-World Health Organisation boss said the Covid pandemic would not be declared over across the globe “until all countries have completed what they need to do to make this virus tamer and to become endemic”.
He said: “In general, now, the countries that we know best in the northern hemisphere have varying stages of the pandemic.
“And probably, in the UK, it’s the closest to any country of being out of the pandemic if it isn’t already out of the pandemic and having the disease as endemic as the other four coronaviruses.”
A virus is endemic when there are “persistent, low or moderate levels of disease” in a given geographical location, according to the Communicable Disease Control Handbook.
It becomes an epidemic when the “occurrence of infection exceeds the expected level for a given time period”.
Prof Heymann said immunity was already high in the UK.
He added: “That means immunity against serious illness and death after infection if one is vaccinated, or after re-infection, if one has had the illness before, and that population immunity seems to be keeping the virus and its variants at bay, not causing serious illness or death in countries where population immunity is high.
“I looked at the ONS (Office for National Statistics) most recent report on population immunity and they estimated about 95 per cent of the population in England and a little less than in other parts of the United Kingdom do have antibody to infection either from vaccination or from natural infection.
“And that antibody, as I said, is keeping the virus at bay. And it’s now functioning more like an endemic coronavirus than one that is a pandemic.”
But ministers warn the job is not over, with 7.5 million still needing booster jabs and around 1.1 million have also had only one dose.
Tuesday saw 379 Covid deaths, the highest number since February last year, but cases were falling as 120,821 were recorded.
Over the weekend, Omicron was called a “possible first ray of light” in the Covid pandemic by an expert.
Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick, said the Omicron variant could make Covid endemic and he said hopefully we should start to see a shift in the pandemic by the spring.
He told Times Radio: “The thing that might happen in the future is you may see the emergence of a new variant that is less severe, and ultimately, in the long term, what happens is Covid becomes endemic and you have a less severe version.
“It’s very similar to the common cold that we’ve lived with for many years.”