People may be less likely to adhere to coronavirus lockdown rules after getting vaccinated, a leading behavioural scientist has said.
Prof Susan Michie, the director of UCL’s Centre for Behaviour Change, cited evidence from previous vaccine rollouts, recent national surveys suggesting people would be less likely to abide by the rules, and evidence from Israel, which has the highest Covid vaccination rate in the world, indicating this may be the case.
“The concern is that as the vaccination programme rolls out and more people are getting vaccinated themselves and seeing other people in their community getting vaccinated, that people may drop their guard,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
She referred to evidence from Lyme disease and influenza vaccine rollouts where those vaccinated were less likely to adhere to preventative behaviours, along with national surveys from December in which 29% of people said that after getting vaccinated they would adhere less strictly and 11% said they would not follow the rules.
She also cited Israel’s evaluation of its Covid vaccine rollout – the world’s fastest – where there seemed to be an increase in infections during the rollout. “The authors interpreted that as possibly indicating that people weren’t sticking to the regulations so much,” Michie said.
But she noted there had been “really very high levels of adherence” in the UK and that there was no expectation of a big decrease of social distancing.
“But people may think they are more immune than they are,” she said. “Because we still don’t how much immunity the different vaccines give, [or] how long that’s going to last for, [and] there’s also a question mark over the decrease in infectiousness.”
Michie said: “Its a question of getting the message across that we absolutely need to get the population vaccinated so we can begin to lift restrictions, but it doesn’t mean at this moment in time that people can afford to in any way drop their guard.”
Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee of Vaccines and Immunisation, echoed the message. “At the moment, we still need to be cautious and obey the rules and I don’t think kissing grandchildren is allowed.”
Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, has urged the public not to be lulled into a false sense of security as the vaccine rollout gathers pace.
At a Downing Street briefing on Friday, Van-Tam showed what he termed “quite sobering” slides showing a rise in coronavirus cases in parts of the country, including the Midlands and parts of the west coast of England.
In Tamworth, one of the areas in England where the case rate is going up, the borough and county councils are urging people “to do their bit to tackle Covid”.
Speaking to Today, council leader Jeremy Oates said people may be going to work out of necessity or without knowing they have the virus, and that there was a low rate of testing take-up in the area.
“People in Tamworth are afraid to get tested because they don’t want to know they have got the virus,” he said. “They’re also afraid that if they do test positive they won’t be able to go to work. So it’s about getting those messages out there that actually there is [some] support out there … Its not people breaking the rules, it’s in the workplace.”
Izzi Seccombe, the leader of Warwickshire county council, said: “We think its people in the workplace environment and supermarkets, who are then taking it back home.
“There’s a great sense of hope that we’re seeing the end of the tunnel. That does change people’s behaviours and I think this where we’re at.”