In the UK, an astonishing 90% of those aged 16 and over have received a first dose of a Covid vaccine, while 82% – almost 45 million individuals – have had their double dose.
The roll-out of boosters for the over 50s and the vulnerable, alongside doses for 12 to 15 year olds, is now in full flow.
But what is the latest evidence on the impact that this roll-out is having?
From the latest data, Covid infections appear to have plateaued. Ever since cases started to fall in mid-July, the daily figures have bobbed round, with the average number neither rising or falling dramatically.
Prof Graham Medley, who chairs the government’s modelling committee, hopes that the dramatic surges characterising earlier waves, which caused a huge rise in hospitalisations, are now behind us. But he’s also doubtful that we will see a significant reduction in infection levels.
How worried should we be about infection levels remaining high?
While hospitalisations are higher than in the summer, they’ve remained steady for several weeks. The latest figures indicate there are 6,976 coronavirus patients in hospital in the UK – down from 7,608 the week before. While this is by no means a small number, it is far below the peak of 40,000 hospitalisations back in January.
Infection rates are currently highest among secondary school children but deaths and hospitalisations remain heavily concentrated in the elderly.
Inoculation is an incredibly effective shield from illness and death but no vaccine is perfect. Indeed, there have been “breakthrough deaths” – people who have died from Covid-19 despite getting their second dose at least two weeks prior to infection.
But this is a tiny demographic. According to ONS data, of the 51,281 deaths involving Covid registered in England between 2 January and 2 July 2021, only 256 – 0.8% – were breakthrough deaths. Among those who died after their double dose, 13% were immunocompromised and over 75% were clinically extremely vulnerable.
Public Health England estimates that the vaccination programme has prevented about 24 million infections, 230,000 hospitalisations and 120,000 deaths.
Elsewhere in the world, according to BBC analysis, every continent is experiencing an overall stabilising or declining number of daily cases.
That is not to say that every country is following this general trend. In Africa, for example, cases are rising in Cameroon and Benin, while Gabon and Angola are seeing peak levels of infection. The delta variant is also driving a spike in cases in Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and Romania.
Yet in India, after a brutal wave of infections which claimed the lives of almost half a million citizens, cases have thankfully fallen recently. Similarly, in the US, which has recorded more than 690,000 Covid deaths – the highest figure in the world- cases have been declining for weeks.
Cases have started to fall again in Israel after a recent spike which unnerved many given its high vaccination rates.
In Taiwan, after a mini Covid scare, infections have dropped back to barely a handful a day. And Japan is lifting the state of emergency in place for the past six months following a dramatic drop in infections attributed to the ramped up vaccination drive.
If you look north to Scandinavia, all restrictions have now been lifted in Norway, Sweden and Denmark – countries which took a more relaxed approach to lockdown strategies and have some of the highest rates of vaccination in the world.
In a fascinating interview with Unherd, Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, is still querying whether or not his controversial no-lockdown strategy paid off.
The answer? It’s complicated.
Eurostat data shows Sweden had an excess mortality of 7.7% in 2020 – lower than many countries which locked down, such as Spain and Belgium, with 18.1% and 16.2% respectively.
Then again, it’s probably fairer to compare Sweden with neighbouring countries given similarities in population, climate and lifestyle. Using this barometer, things don’t look so good: Sweden recorded three times more deaths than Denmark, eight times more than Finland, and nearly 10 times more than Norway.
Tegnell admits that Sweden was unrealistic about the level of immunity needed to control the virus. But other merits of the Swedish approach, such as the mental health benefits for children of not shutting down schools, will become clearer with time.
There is another country, Portugal, which has a low profile within the global media but deserves more attention for its successful Covid strategy. A dark horse in the inoculation race, Portugal has the highest Covid-19 vaccination rate in the world.
The military-led vaccine task force has fully inoculated 85 per cent of the population. According to prime minister António Costa, this was aided by the Portuguese being typically well-disposed towards jabs.
Unlike in Germany and France, there is no significant anti-vax movement in the country, and vaccine uptake for measles, mumps and rubella, for instance, is 95%.