Why We Will Still Need Mass Testing Even When There's A Vaccine

Léonie Chao-Fong
·2-min read

This month has seen three major vaccine breakthroughs, giving hope that an end to the pandemic is in sight.

The latest of these – the Oxford University and AstraZeneca jab – was bolstered this week by prime minister Boris Johnson indicating the “vast majority” of people most in need of protection would be able to receive vaccination by Easter.

With such positive developments, you might be forgiven for wondering whether the government needs to plough ahead with its estimated £40bn plan for mass coronavirus testing.

The answer, it turns out, is a big yes. We spoke to the experts to explain why.

It will buy us time

The queue to get hold of a Covid-19 vaccine could be a long one. Guidance published on the government’s website revealed care home residents and workers would be prioritised, as well as older people, healthcare staff and those in high-risk categories. Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups in areas of higher socio-economic deprivation could also be some of the first to get the jab.

But getting people vaccinated will be a major logistical undertaking and health secretary Matt Hancock’s increasing confidence that life will be closer to normal by spring could be premature.

“It’s going to take time – months at very least. And that’s assuming everything goes well,” said Professor Rowland Kao, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Edinburgh. “So we just need to temper our expectations in terms of how rapidly things go.

“That’s not a reason to think all of this isn’t fantastically good news. It just means that when the vaccine is being rolled out, we need to remain careful initially as to what that vaccine is actually doing.”

This is where mass testing comes into the equation, according to Dr Joshua Moon, a research fellow at the University of Sussex. “Eradication will require an understanding of where the virus is most prevalent and where to target vaccine resources.

“The spread needs to be monitored...

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