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Members of the public queue to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary vaccination centre at the Science Museum in central London on May 18, 2021.

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

British health officials expressed optimism Sunday that the coronavirus restrictions remaining in England can be lifted in June after an official study found that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines offer effective protection against the variant first associated with India.

Jenny Harries, chief executive of the U.K. Health Security Agency, said officials in England are on track to proceed with the final stage of unlocking the country from June 21 if the public remains cautious.

“It’s looking good if people are continuing to observe all of the safety signals,” she told the BBC. However, she warned that the variant first associated with India is starting to become the dominant strain in parts of northwestern England, and people there need to be vigilant.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock also said he was “increasingly confident” the country can follow its unlocking plans.

A study by Public Health England found that the Pfizer vaccine is 88 per cent effective against the variant after two doses. The AstraZeneca jab was 60 per cent effective after both doses.

The study, which took place between April 5 and May 16, found that the jab was almost as effective against symptomatic disease from the variant first associated with India as it is against the dominant variant first associated with Kent, England.

Both vaccines were only 33 per cent effective against symptomatic disease from the variant first associated with India three weeks after the first dose – compared with about 50 per cent against the variant first associated with Kent.

Authorities in Britain have expressed concern in recent weeks that increasing cases of the variant first associated with India could jeopardize the U.K.’s so-far-successful plan to reopen its economy. More than 2,880 cases of that variant have been recorded in England, figures show.

The government has said the variant appears to be more transmissible, but there was still uncertainty about how concerning this was.

More than 37.7 million people, or 72 per cent of the adult population, have had their first vaccine dose in the U.K. About 42 per cent have had their second dose.

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