UCL School of Pharmacy


RPS/UCL New Year Lecture 2021

15 January 2021

Developing Herd Immunity from Covid-19 through Vaccination is a Global Task, not one for Industrialised Nations Alone.

Extraordinary progress has been made in understanding the biology and epidemiology of the SARSCoV-2 virus and developing Covid-19 vaccines and therapies during 2020. Britain currently faces a new surge in the numbers of hospitalised patients and deaths from the coronavirus, necessitating a third lock down. But in his 2021 Royal Pharmaceutical Society/UCL School of Pharmacy New Year lecture*, Professor Sir Roy Anderson FRS of Imperial College concludes there remains hope that the infection and the disease it induces will be much more effectively controlled by the early Summer.

Sir Roy commented: ‘there always is a danger in over-promising and under-performing in a situation which is changing continuously. Policy makers should not be blamed for changes necessitated by a rapidly evolving epidemic, as they try to address the very difficult task of balancing health, social, educational, and economic impacts. However, despite early indecision about when to introduce lock down measures, the public can be reassured that the scientific and medical UK response is world leading with regard to managing patients, and tracking both the course of the epidemic and the
continued evolution of the virus.

Sir Roy Anderson (in collaboration with the late Lord Robert May) first generalised the concept of the basic reproductive number, R0, in infectious disease epidemiology in the 1970s and 80s in the most cited publication in this field (1). This number defines how fast infections will spread with and without interventions. In his 2021 lecture Sir Roy notes that there remain important uncertainties relating to the transmission of Covid-19. They are linked to the causes and impacts of asymptomatic transmission, the rate and nature of genetic changes in the virus, the varying behaviours of
individuals and groups at risk, seasonal factors and uncertainty about the duration of protection created by natural infection and by the different vaccines, either in use or about to be used.

Vaccines protect at both the individual and community or ‘herd’ levels. So-called ‘herd immunity’ occurs when the number of people who have been vaccinated or become immune by recovering from infection, rises to an extent which slows, and can at very high levels effectively stop, an infectious agent’s transmission. Sir Roy said: ‘at present the case for accepting Covid-19 immunisation is very clear, both in terms of self, family member and work colleague interests. Later
this year, vaccine induced SARS-CoV-2 immunity should also begin to offer a degree of herd immunity in the UK, though there will still be risks of unprotected individuals catching Covid-19 here and abroad. The virus is likely to become endemic worldwide for many years to come, so tracking its evolution is of very high importance’.

He continued: ‘richer countries can best defend their citizens by recognising that promoting herd immunity via vaccination is, together with monitoring Covid-19s evolution, a global task. It is not just one for individual industrialised nations acting alone. Modern economies depend on high levels of interconnectedness between countries. Controlling Covid-19 in ways which minimise economic harm and protect health in all settings, will require the richer nations giving resources to poorer regions.

Additional points from Sir Roy Anderson’s 2021 UCL School of Pharmacy/Royal Pharmaceutical Society New Year Lecture relate to the value of the research based pharmaceutical industry working in partnership with University researchers and care providers like the NHS and also to the role community pharmacists. Pharmacists, working in cooperation with other primary health care providers, can effectively contribute to rapidly providing vaccines to large populations. Sir Roy endorses the view that community pharmacy is an important and widely available asset which
should be further enabled to provide clinical and preventive services during the 2020s.

* The SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic: uncertainties and challenges to be overcome in 2021.
1 Infectious Diseases of Humans: Dynamics & Control, Oxford University Press

Further information:

For further information please contact Professor David Taylor at David.G.Taylor@ucl.ac.uk 

Professor Sir Roy Anderson can be contacted by email at Roy.Anderson@Imperial.ac.uk


His 2021 Royal Pharmaceutical Society / UCL School of Pharmacy New Year Lecture will be viewable here:

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJSYZwRyqPM&feature=youtu.be


Professor Taylor commented today: ‘We are very grateful to Sir Roy for agreeing to give this year’s lecture online. The Covid-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of Universities, professional groups and other public and private sector organisations such as pharmaceutical companies working together in new ways to achieve common goals. In Britain this will be all the more important in future years as the country seeks to recover from the impacts of Covid-19 and faces the economic and social challenges of leaving the EU.’

The 2021 UCL School of Pharmacy/Royal Pharmaceutical Society New Year Lecture did not receive funding from any external source. Thanks are also due to the Royal Society for proving IT services.