VACCINATING healthcare workers against Covid significantly reduces the risk that other people within their household will become infected.

The study, led by Public Health Scotland and Glasgow University, provides fresh evidence that the vaccines prevent people from transmitting the virus as well as becoming sick.

This is crucially important because it would mean that the epidemic can be brought under control more quickly, potentially allowing for a faster exit from lockdown and a lower upsurge in cases as restrictions are eased.

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Currently, 40 per cent of Scotland’s population has had at least one dose of the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine - ahead of the UK average of 35% - but that means at least six in 10 people can still catch and spread the virus.

More when you consider that the vaccines cut transmission, but do not reduce it to zero. 

The PHS study found that there was a 30% fall in the number of Covid cases detected among the family or flatmates of healthcare workers when the period before vaccination and from 14 days post-vaccination were compared.

The true effect is likely to be even larger, however.

Previous research by PHS had shown that people who live with frontline healthcare workers are twice as likely to become infected compared to the general population, and that half of these cases could be traced to the healthcare worker as the source of infection.

Once this is taken into account, the researchers concluded that the proportion of cases directly prevented by vaccinating healthcare workers “must be considerably larger”, and put the true estimate at 60%.

Commenting on the findings during the daily Covid briefing, Professor Jason Leitch, Scotland’s national clinical director, said: “The study itself is the beginnings of some really interesting data and it’s important for people to realise that Scotland is leading the way for a lot of this research.

“It suggests that those in the homes of those vaccinated are not as at risk as those without a vaccinated individual.

“That is one of the first studies in the world that suggests transmission has been reduced.”

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To date, more than 95% of frontline NHS staff, 94% of care home staff, and around 90% of social care workers have had at least a single vaccine dose since the rollout began in December.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the results were “very encouraging indeed”, but stressed that it was important that vaccination - even among health and social care staff - “has to be voluntary”.

Last week, it emerged that NHS executives in England were considering making the jags mandatory for frontline staff, after a number of care home providers adopted a “no jag, no job” policy.

HeraldScotland: Professor Jason LeitchProfessor Jason Leitch

Ms Freeman said this was not something currently being considered in Scotland.

She said: “It is our job to give people all the information they need about the benefits of the vaccination programme to encourage their participation.

“I think what we’ve seen in the significantly high uptakes - higher than we had planned for, we were planning on a presumption of 80% uptake and it’s higher than that so far across the different cohorts - tells us that people are keen to be vaccinated and understand the benefits to them.”

Dr Diane Stockton, PHS lead for the Covid-19 Vaccination Surveillance Programme, said the results are “very encouraging”.

“It suggests that the vaccine helps prevent people from passing on the virus to others - something that has been suspected but hasn’t previously been shown,” she said.

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Dr David McAllister, a public health expert at Glasgow University, said it was “the first direct evidence that vaccinating individuals working in high-exposure settings reduces the risk to their close contacts”.

He added: “Our work will also be of interest to modellers, as it can be used to inform their predictions about future rates of Covid-19 in the community.”

It comes amid warnings of a recent increase in cases, with 3,876 reported in the seven days to yesterday compared to 3,566 in the week to last Friday.

Prof Leitch said the increases had occurred from Tuesday onwards and “that’s worried us a bit”.

He added: “They have not gone up dramatically and it may just be a blip, we don’t know. But that emphasises two things: one, we should open slowly, and we should have three-week check ups.”