England’s Covid wall of immunity revealed: How 99% of adults and up to 96% of children have antibodies against virus two years after country was plunged into first lockdown
Official charts have revealed England’s immense Covid wall of immunity exactly two years after the country was plunged into its first lockdown.
The graphs, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), show that 99 per cent of adults in England had detectable levels of the Covid-fighting antibodies by February 28.
An estimated 96 per cent of children aged 12 to 15 also had the protective proteins last month, as did around 81 per cent of youngsters between eight and 11.
Covid antibodies are produced by the immune system in response to either natural infection or vaccination and they indicate at least some level of immunity against the disease.
The figures — based on blood samples from 75,000 people — come exactly two years after the UK went into the unprecedented first lockdown.
Boris Johnson announced on the night of March 23 that the following day, Britons should not leave their home but for exceptional circumstances. At that point, there was virtually zero immunity to the novel virus.
But now more than 85 per cent of Britons have been double-jabbed and 67 per cent have got three doses, according to official figures, while separate estimates suggest half of Britons have already caught Covid.
Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at Reading University, hailed the wall of immunity, claiming we were ‘not in the situation we were in two years or even a year ago’.
He told MailOnline: ‘We are better off than I anticipated we would be back then. The vaccines came along quicker than I anticipated they would.’
Antibodies do not provide total immunity against infection, but the ONS said they were ‘strong enough to provide some protection’ against the virus.
The above chart lays bare England’s mammoth wall of immunity against Covid. Based on random tests on 75,000 people in England a week, it shows around 99 per cent of all over-18s have Covid-fighting antibodies. Among eight to 15-year-olds up to 96 per cent would test positive for the virus-fighting proteins, they estimated
Modelling from Cambridge University scientists suggests 51.8 per cent of people in England had caught the virus by February 23, two years into the pandemic
The above chart shows that around 85 per cent of people in Britain have already had two doses of the vaccine, while 67 per cent have also got their booster shot
Astonishing restrictions on daily life: The Daily Mail’s front page on the morning after Boris Johnson’s historic lockdown speech
The ONS report — published every fortnight — also estimates the levels of Covid-fighting antibodies in the devolved nations.
It suggested there were similarly high levels among adults in Scotland (99 per cent), Wales (98.9 per cent) and Northern Ireland (98.8 per cent). Among children up to 97 per cent had the virus-fighting proteins.
Rich school children were more likely to test positive for Covid than poor school children
Wealthy school children were more likely to test positive for Covid than their peers last term, official statistics revealed today.
About 20 per cent of primary and 27 per cent of secondary school pupils in the least deprived group had the virus over the autumn term, an Office for National Statistics report found.
For comparison, among the most deprived it was nine and 15 per cent respectively among children that fell into the most deprived category.
The ONS report analysed testing data from 6.5million children aged four to 15 years old at state schools in England.
At this time pupils were required to test themselves twice a week for the virus.
The ONS did not suggest why more wealthy pupils were testing positive than their poorer peers.
Previous studies have suggested Covid is more prevalent in poorer areas, which has been linked to lower vaccination rates and more people working in face-to-face roles.
Britain’s vaccination drive was launched in December 2020, about a year after the first Covid cases appeared in Wuhan, China. It prioritised the elderly and extremely vulnerable before being expanded down the age groups in 2021.
This winter third doses were also offered to all over-18s amid concerns over waning antibody levels and the more infectious Omicron variant.
Fourth doses are being offered to over-75s, care home residents and the vulnerable this spring.
Ministers are also already gearing up to dish out fifth doses to this group in the autumn, the Health Secretary has suggested, as well as fourth doses to over-50s. This would bring Covid jabs into line with the flu vaccine, which is rolled out every year to the age groups.
Antibodies are tiny proteins produced by the body to provide protection against a disease. They work by latching on to the virus spike protein — which it uses to invade the cell — limiting the pathogen from multiplying in the body.
They are a proxy for immunity levels against Covid, although experts point out other harder to measure areas of the immune system — such as white blood cells called T cells — also play a vital role.
Rising immunity levels have been driven both by Covid vaccinations and by infections, in particular the Omicron wave.
Professor David Livermore, a microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, previously told MailOnline that the variant gave a perfect opportunity to boost natural immunity levels without overwhelming the NHS because it was so mild.
He said: ‘Natural infection gives longer-lasting protection than any vaccine and the now-predominant Omicron variant generally gives a mild infection.
‘Consequently, the more low-risk people who’re infected the better. It will be a strong wall of immunity that cements our move from pandemic to endemic.’
In the ONS survey, someone was considered to have detectable Covid-antibodies if they had levels above the World Health Organization recommended threshold of 179nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml).
This day two years ago was the first day of the UK’s initial lockdown aimed at thwarting the Covid virus, after it arrived in the country from China.
All non-essential shops were required to close and public gatherings of more than two people were banned, with the police given new powers to enforce the lockdown with fines.
At the time, there were a little over 1,000 deaths from the virus. Today, more than 186,000 British lives have been lost to the disease.
But after two long years the Prime Minister finally looks set to deliver on his promise to beat Covid, with the UK currently transitioning towards living with the virus.
All legally-binding Covid curbs have already been scrapped in England and the final measure — free testing — is to be abolished next week.
Northern Ireland has also ditched its Covid laws and moved to Government advice, while Scotland and Wales continue to take a more cautious approach.
Nationally, Covid infections have risen for the last three weeks driven by the more infectious version of Omicron and the easing of the final Covid restrictions in England.
Yesterday the country recorded 102,483 new infections, marking the second time this month that cases have broken into six figures.
Hospitalisations are also rising with 16,000 Covid patients currently in hospital — although about half of these are ‘incidental’ cases, when someone is admitted for another illness such as a fall and then tests positive for Covid. It is 40 per cent of the 39,000 patients at the peak of the wave last January.
Some experts have predicted that the current wave of infections will start to fall before the end of this month, as the virus runs out of people to infect.
Britain’s Covid pandemic: The pivotal moments
23 March – In an historic televised address, Boris Johnson announces a nationwide lockdown coming into effect on 26 March. All non-essential shops are required to close and public gatherings of more than two people are banned. Police are given new powers to enforce lockdown with fine.
26 March – The first ‘Clap for Carers’ event takes place across the UK at 18.00, applauding the NHS for their work during the pandemic.
27 March – Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock both test positive for Covid-19 as the virus rips through Westminster. Chris Whitty also starts self-isolating after suffering from Covid symptoms.
5 April – The Prime Minister is admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital in London for ‘precautionary’ tests after his symptoms persisted for 10 days. Queen Elizabeth II makes a rare televised broadcast to the UK and the wider Commonwealth, thanking people for following the government’s new Covid rules and telling the nation: ‘If we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it’.
6 April – Boris Johnson moved to intensive care after his condition dramatically worsens. First Secretary of State Dominic Raab stands in as deputy.
16 April – 99-year-old war veteran Captain Tom Moore finishes walking 100 laps of his garden, eventually raising almost £33 million for NHS Charities Together. Dominic Raab announces a three-week extension of the nationwide lockdown.
29 April – The Daily Mail’s new charity, Mail Force, flies in vital PPE worth over £1million for frontline hospital staff in dire need of equipment.
23 May – Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief political adviser, is revealed to have travelled 260 miles from London to Durham to self-isolate during lockdown.
26 May – In an extraordinary press conference in the Downing Street Rose Garden Dominic Cummings says he doesn’t regret his lockdown-breaking journey to Durham amid calls for him to resign.
15 June – All non-essential retail opens in the UK, and places of worship open for private worship. Face coverings become mandatory on public transport.
4 July – Pubs, restaurants, hairdressers reopen as lockdown measures continue to ease in the UK.
14 September – Social gatherings of more than six are banned as Covid cases begin to rise across the country.
22 September – In a televised address Boris Johnson warns the nation ‘the fight against Covid is by no means over’ as he unveiled new restrictions including a 10pm curfew for pubs and £200 fines for those flouting rules.
14 October – A new three-tiered system of lockdowns comes into effect in the UK, rating areas in the country medium, high or very high.
31 October – Boris Johnson announces a second national lockdown for England to prevent a ‘medical and moral disaster’, lasting from 5 November to 2 December.
9 November – The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine is reported to be 90 per cent successful in preventing COVID-19.
23 November – The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is revealed to be 70 per cent effective. Boris Johnson confirms the previous three-tier system of COVID regulations will return once lockdown finishes on 2 December.
3 December – Britain becomes the first country in the world to approve a Covid vaccine, with the Pfizer/BioNTech arriving the following week. But Boris Johnson warns the public should not get ‘carried away with over optimism’.
8 December – Margaret Keenan, 90, becomes the first person to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as the UK jab rollout begins.
14 December – Matt Hancock announces the discovery of a new variant of Covid that is spreading faster in some areas of the country.
19 December – Boris Johnson announces that London, the South East and East of England will go into new Tier 4 restrictions and Christmas bubbles will be scrapped in Tier 4 areas, effectively cancelling Christmas for millions of families.
4 January – The country is plunged into a third national lockdown from 5 January, shutting all non-essential retail and schools. Brian Pinker, 82, becomes the first person to receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID vaccine.
2 February – Captain Sir Tom Moore dies aged 100 after testing positive for COVID-19. A study, suggests that a single dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could lead to a ‘substantial’ fall in the spread of COVID, and is 76% effective in the 12 weeks before the second dose is given.
22 February – Boris Johnson reveals his roadmap out of the third national lockdown in England, with schools opening on 8 March and non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality opening from 12 April.
8 March – Step one of the unlocking sees schools allowed to reopen and people allowed to meet one other person outside once a day. The stay at home order remains in place.
29 March – The second part of step one allows people to leave their homes when they wish but they are advised to ‘stay local’. Up to two people can meet indoors and up to six outdoors, including in private gardens. Open air sports facilities can reopen.
12 April – Non-essential shops are reopened and restaurants and pubs are allowed to offer outdoor service as part of step two of the unlocking. Many other outdoor venues also reopen, including zoos and theme parks. Self-contained holidays are permitted.
17 May – Step three of unlocking takes place. Social mixing rules are expanded to allow the rule of six indoors and up to 30 people to meet outdoors. Indoor venues can reopen, including cinemas, restaurants and pubs. Outdoor stadiums can seat up to 10,000 spectators.
14 June – Boris delays ‘freedom day’ by more than a month after a surge in cases of the Delta variant. The new date for the final unlocking is scheduled for July 19, which the PM says will buy the country time to vaccinate more people.
19 July – The final part of the roadmap out of lockdown sees most legal limits on social contact lifted, including the rule of six. Nightclubs are also able to open their doors for the first time in months. People are asked to ‘gradually’ to return to their desks as the WFH advice is softened. The ‘one metre plus’ rule on social distancing is lifted except in specific circumstances such as at the border and legal requirements to wear face coverings are ditched.
4 November – UK becomes first country to approve an antiviral that can slash the risk of severe Covid. Nearly half a million doses of molnupiravir, a pill that can be taken twice daily at home, are due for delivery from mid-November.
16 November – NHS begins Covid booster vaccine rollout campaign after approval from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). Data shows protection from two doses starts to wane after six months. Elderly care-home residents are offered jabs first, moving down through the age cohorts to over-50s. Frontline health and social care workers and younger adults with underlying health conditions are also included in the rollout.
23 November: UK scientist sounds the alarm about ‘horrific’ new variant with 32 mutations on its spike protein – which is later named Omicron. The strain causes an explosion of cases in South Africa where it was first detected.
27 November – The first two cases of Omicron are announced in the UK as ministers impose a ban on swathes of southern Africa in an attempt to limit the importation of cases.
30 November – The booster vaccine rollout is expanded to all adults aged 18 and over to tackle Omicron.
8 December – Boris moves England to ‘plan B’ restrictions for winter as the Omicron variant is projected to send case rates to astronomical levels. Face masks become mandatory in most public indoor venues and NHS Covid Passes must be used to gain access to specific settings. People are asked to work from home when possible.
January 27 – The Omicron wave begins to settle a tidal wave of infections sent daily cases to more than 200,000 per day. Hospital pressure does not reach levels projected by expert advisers, with the booster rollout credited. England moves to ‘plan A’ which sees face coverings and NHS Covid passes scrapped.
February 24 – The Government’s ‘Living with Covid’ is enacted, with all remaining restrictions ending. People who catch the virus no longer have to self-isolate, although they will still be advised to avoid others for five days.