Two people under 50 and more than 100 over-50s have died of Covid after being fully vaccinated, official figures for England show, as experts said the jabs were working as expected amid surging infection rates attributed to the Delta variant.
Public Health England (PHE) figures show that between 1 February and 21 June this year, there were 118 deaths in people who had had both vaccine doses, 116 of them over 50.
Among over-50s who died due to the Delta variant in that period, nearly half had been fully vaccinated while just 21 unvaccinated people under the age of 50 died. This is expected to be due to the “very strong risk-gradient with age”, said Sir David Spiegelhalter, chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge.
An unvaccinated 30-year-old had a lower risk from coronavirus than a 60-year-old who had been jabbed, he said.
The Delta variant of coronavirus – which is believed to be more transmissible and brings a greater risk of hospital admission and death – has become dominant in the UK.
PHE estimates that two-dose vaccine effectiveness against hospital admission with Delta is about 94% and scientists think there is likely a similar reduction against death, which means the lethal risk is reduced to less than a 20th of its usual value.
So far 65% of the adult population has been fully vaccinated and many restrictions have already been lifted.
“Infections in the current wave will be mainly in younger people at low risk, but the vaccine is not perfect and unfortunately there will be more deaths among fully vaccinated people,” said Spiegelhalter.
Prof Christina Pagel, the director of UCL’s Clinical Operational Research Unit, said: “I don’t think that the deaths [in the latest PHE report] are a sign that something is happening that we’re not expecting. But I think we definitely know that infections are bad because they will inevitably lead to more hospitalisations and deaths, not at the same scale that we had before, but a significant number.”
She predicted the UK would end up “with well over 1,000 hospitalisations a day this summer”.
PHE said about 30,300 deaths, 46,300 hospital admissions and 8,151,000 infections had been prevented by the UK’s vaccination programme.