Coronavirus: People who don't get jabs 'will meet the virus' as herd immunity no longer possible - COVID vaccine inventor

Brits who refuse jabs will likely get infected with COVID-19 eventually no matter how many others are vaccinated, one of the scientists behind the world's most widely-used vaccine. 

Sir Andrew Pollard of Oxford University, which teamed up with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, says the Delta variant of the virus is just too infectious to achieve herd immunity.

"The Delta variant will still infect people who have been vaccinated, and that does mean that anyone who's still unvaccinated at some point will meet the virus," he told MPs. "We don’t have anything that will [completely] stop that transmission."

More than 75 percent of UK adults have now received two doses of a vaccine, yet the virus is still running rampant. Infections and deaths are on the rise since the country's reopening last month, though are well below what they were earlier this year, thanks to vaccines. 

Recent UK data suggested those fully vaccinated are about half as likely be infected with Delta, well below the 90 percent-plus efficacy most of the vaccines had against the original strains. But those who are vaccinated are far less likely to fall seriously ill.

But not everyone is eligible for, or can safely receive a vaccine. It was hoped herd immunity would protect these people. 

"I think we are in a situation here with this current variant where herd immunity is not a possibility because it still infects vaccinated individuals," Sir Andrew said. 

"I suspect that what the virus will throw up next is a variant which is perhaps even better at transmitting in vaccinated populations. So that's even more of a reason not to be making a vaccine programme around herd immunity."

The Government in New Zealand on Wednesday released the advice it's received from experts on how and when to reopen. The chair of the Strategic COVID-19 Public Health Advisory Group, Sir David Skegg, told The AM Show New Zealand should stick to its elimination strategy, since it's unlikely we'll get even close to 100 percent vaccine coverage. 

"I wish it was going to be 100 percent, but we need to be as near as possible as we can to 100 percent. It's clear that even at 90 percent we won't have some magical state of herd immunity where we can stop doing all the other things." 

Disease modeller Shaun Hendy of the University of Auckland said he would have been "a lot more confident" we could reopen at a lower level of immunity across the population if we were still dealing with the Alpha strain, but we're not. 

"Delta really has changed things. At the moment it's looking like maybe close to 100 percent before we can go back to normal."

The UK has never tried to eliminate COVID-19 from its shores. New Zealand has not had any community transmission in more than five months, raising hopes outbreaks can be stopped early so it won't become endemic while it's still so deadly. 

Sir Andrew said rather than giving Brits people boosters to try and stop the spread of Delta altogether, instead the UK should give its doses to other countries which have struggled to afford buying doses on the market, or get enough from the international COVAX sharing scheme. 

"During the course of this week there will be about 65,000 deaths in the world. We have now over 4 billion doses deployed of the vaccine globally, and that is now enough doses to prevent almost all of those deaths. Yet they are continuing. 

"When you think about what the UK strategy should be around variants, I don't think there's anything that we can do. But what we can do is play a more active role in the global imperative, which is to stop people dying. That means making sure doses are going to the right people."