Vaccination roll-out must not be used as an excuse to give up on virus suppression, warns Independent SAGE

Independent SAGE has today issued a statement warning that vaccination roll-out must not be used as an excuse to give up on suppressing the virus.

The panel of scientists have cautioned politicians and the public that a policy of ‘going back to normal’ once vulnerable groups have been vaccinated risks putting non-vaccinated population at risk of illness, including Long COVID, says panel of expert scientists.  They also stated:

  • Between 5% and 10% of people who get COVID-19 will develop condition known as Long COVID, where symptoms continue for more than 12 weeks
  • As total number of confirmed cases in UK exceeds 3.7 million, this could mean between 185,000 and 370,000 people afflicted with long-term health issues, ranging from fatigue and shortness of breath to ‘brain fog’ and organ damage
  • Recent study of COVID patients discharged from hospitals in England shows that 29% were readmitted within 140 days and 12% died within same period. Long COVID patients are three times more likely to be readmitted to hospital than non-COVID patients. Many also developed new diagnoses within 140 days, including diabetes, heart disease and liver disease
  • Long COVID can affect people of any age, including those with mild initial symptoms. One UK study found that long term symptoms and organ damage to heart, lungs and liver were common even in those not admitted to hospital

Independent SAGE is calling for:

  • Specialist care centres to be expanded across UK
  • Existing national guidelines communicated to all clinicians
  • National databases and research projects to learn more about risk factors, causes and treatments, in partnership with patients
  • Data to be collected on cases of Long COVID and presented alongside numbers of cases, hospitalisations and deaths
  • A national register of patients with Long COVID, including those who have not required hospitalisation, to enable long-term follow-up

Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said:

“As we mourn those who have died in this pandemic, we must not overlook the many, of all ages, who have survived with the condition we know as Long COVID. We are only beginning to understand the many ways that it affects those who are afflicted, some with what may be lasting damage. This is why we must do everything possible to drive down and keep down the spread of this virus while we wait for the eventual benefits of the vaccine.”

Independent SAGE will hold a livestreamed press and public briefing today at 1.30pm. With latest figures presented by Professor Christina Pagel and guest experts Dr Nisreen Alwan, Professor in Public Health, Southampton University, and Dr Sarah Elkin, Consultant in Respiratory Medicine, Imperial College NHS Trust

Read new Independent SAGE report on Long Covid here