Boris Johnson has warned that the reduction in coronavirus infections, hospitalisations and deaths “has not been achieved” by the rollout of COVID vaccines.
The prime minister, speaking the day after the latest easing of lockdown restrictions, instead said it was the national shutdown that had been “overwhelmingly important” in driving down COVID rates.
Nearly 40 million vaccine doses have now been given across the UK, with those aged between 45 to 49 now able to book their jab appointments.
They are being invited for vaccines after the government’s target for offering a first dose to priority groups one to nine – including all over-50s – was reached three days early.
But, speaking in 10 Downing Street, Mr Johnson suggested the millions of vaccines given over the past few months was not key to the reduction in COVID levels.
He said: “The numbers are down – of infections and hospitalisations and deaths.
“But it is very, very important for everybody to understand that the reduction in these numbers – in hospitalisations and in deaths and infections – has not been achieved by the vaccination programme.
“People don’t, I think, appreciate that it’s the lockdown that has been overwhelmingly important in delivering this improvement in the pandemic and in the figures that we’re seeing.
“And so, yes of course the vaccination programme has helped, but the bulk of the work in reducing the disease has been done by the lockdown.
“So, as we unlock, the result will inevitably be that we will see more infection, sadly we will see more hospitalisation and deaths, and people have just got to understand that.”
However, the prime minister added that “at the moment” he couldn’t see “any reason” to change his roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions.
The next stage of the roadmap, on 17 May, will allow restaurants and pubs to resume indoor service and see most rules on gathering outdoors lifted.
Mr Johnson also plans to remove all legal limits on social contact on 21 June.
“It is very, very important that if we’re to get there in the way that we all want that people continue to be cautious and they continue to exercise restraint and just do the basic things to stop the spread of the virus,” he added.
“So, you know, washing your hands, giving people plenty of space, doing things in fresh out as much as you can.”
There has been a warning of a significant reduction in the UK’s weekly vaccine supplies this month.
Ministers have previously pointed to delays in the supply of five million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from India, as well as a need to retest a batch of 1.7 million vaccine doses.
But the prime minister said he was “very confident about our vaccine supplies” as the government aims to offer all UK adults a first dose by the end of July.
“This was always going to be the second dose month and people should come forward for their second doses,” Mr Johnson added, as he reiterated the government’s current focus on delivering second doses to those who have already had one jab.
“And the people who are called (for their first dose) in the 45 to 49 group should come forward and get theirs.”