Professor Peter Horby also defended the Government’s decision to announce the news about the increased mortality rates from the new variant, which has been criticised by some due to “inconclusive” evidence.
“I think a very important principle is transparency,” Prof Horby told BBC. “Scientists are looking at the possibility that there is increased severity… and after a week of looking at the data we came to the conclusion that it was a realistic possibility.
“If we were not telling people about this we would be accused of covering it up.”
But he added: “What we need to do is get that message out and put it in context. So instead of headlines saying ‘30% increase in risk’, we need to explain this in terms of the absolute risk we may be seeing and also explain the uncertainties.”
On a more positive note, Prof Horby said it was “encouraging” that B.1.1.7, the variant first found in Kent, did not appear to be more resistant to current treatments or vaccines.
“The encouraging news is that the UK variant is not affecting how the treatments work and it’s not affecting how the vaccines work, so we believe the vaccines and the treatment are just as good against this virus as they’ve always been.”
But a jab isn’t a “free pass”, he added.
“A vaccine is not a passport to do what you like, especially after one dose… it takes a while for protection to set in,” he said. “We’ve still all got to adhere to the restrictions whether we’re vaccinated or not.”