Despite a large decline in coronavirus cases and deaths, a third wave of infections has not been ruled out by medical experts.
During a press conference at Downing Street on Wednesday, England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, suggested “we are at or close to the bottom” of levels of coronavirus cases in the UK.
While he said vaccines could reduce a third wave of the virus, making it a “third upsurge” instead, Prof Van-Tam warned that it was “inconceivable” that there will not be further bumps in the road.
In an attempt to ward off a potential third wave, the government also announced that an extra 60 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus jab have been secured for a booster vaccination programme in the autumn.
Watch: Vaccination programme could reduce third wave of coronavirus – Van-Tam
Prof Van-Tam said: “What is important about these vaccines and the vaccine rollout is it really is the way out of getting into trouble of the same size and magnitude ever again, and that’s why it’s important that this job must get finished.”
Meanwhile, health secretary Matt Hancock emphasised the importance of “protecting the progress that we have made” in the pandemic and said the extra doses would be used alongside other approved vaccines as part of a programme in the autumn.
The health secretary told the press conference: “That is all about protecting the progress that we have made.
“We have a clear route out of this crisis but this is no time for complacency, it’s a time for caution – so we can keep the virus under control while we take steps back to normal life.”
Asked whether the extra 60 million booster shots means every adult can receive a top-up dose in the autumn, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The scientists and the clinicians will make that decision – this is one part of future-proofing the vaccination booster campaign."
Zahawi told ITV’s Good Morning Britain he hopes to move from “pandemic to endemic” via the booster programme, treating coronavirus variants much like the flu, via a yearly jab.
Earlier this month, Professor Jeremy Brown, a member of the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said there could be a “big third wave”.
Prof Brown, an expert in respiratory infection at University College London Hospitals, said there could be tens of thousands more deaths.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I feel mighty relieved that we are now in a position where a very high proportion of the vulnerable population have been vaccinated so, if control of the virus is lost, then the damage it can do will be relatively restricted.
"But when I say relatively restricted, what I mean is that a big third wave could still end up with 30,000 to 50,000 deaths, potentially, if it was a similar sort of size to the previous waves that we've had."
Professor Calum Semple, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, has also previously warned of a third wave of infections in the UK.
He told Sky News last month: “The concern at present is that in countries where there’s less vaccination and a very strong third wave, that’s the perfect breeding ground for further variants of concern.
“So, at this point, Britain has got its act together, the concern is as this third wave is going on elsewhere, that will generate new variations.
“Even within Britain there is a likelihood of a third wave in potentially July and August time when we do unlock society.
“That third wave we would expect to occur in people that are less susceptible to very severe disease.”
Officials are preparing a booster programme based on clinical need to ensure people have the strongest possible protection against the virus, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
This additional stock of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab – which has been rolled out in the UK since December – will be used alongside other approved vaccines for the booster programme.
The government said it will publish further details on the booster programme in due course, with the policy informed by advice from the JCVI.
Watch: PM: UK must be very wary of third COVID wave