CORONAVIRUS vaccines could be looked at on a “seasonal basis” due to emerging variants, Wales’ chief medical officer has said, as he spoke of the “great privilege” of being knighted in the New Year Honours.
Dr Frank Atherton, who has been given a knighthood for services to public health, said the past two years have been “really difficult”, but added there is “great strength” in the UK making “collective decisions” to combat the virus after each UK nation imposed different rules around the Christmas and new year period.
Dr Atherton, of Penarth, told the PA news agency: “Coronavirus will continue to evolve and what we need to do globally, here and in the UK, is to make sure our surveillance is good, that we can spot new variants as they arise, as we did with the Omicron variant.
“When new variants arise they need to be very rapidly assessed in terms of their transmissibility and how dangerous they are, how much harm they cause to people.
“So I think that will be something of a new normal for us in the UK and here in Wales, we will probably need to look at vaccination perhaps on a seasonal basis, in the same way we do with an annual flu booster, but that’s a little bit speculative.
“We just need to to get through this wave of infection and see what the future brings, but I am confident we can come to terms with this virus, that it’s never going to completely go away, but that we can come to live with the virus.”
He said his honour was a recognition of the “team effort” of all health professionals to keep people safe In Wales, groups of a maximum of six are allowed to meet in pubs, cinemas and restaurants, while licensed premises can offer table service only.
A maximum of 30 people can attend indoor events and up to 50 can be present for outdoor events.
Other nations in the UK have taken a different approach, with the most relaxed restrictions in England.
Dr Atherton said: “I’ve always felt throughout this pandemic that there is great strength when we have collective decisions and we have common process.
“We’ve tried, my fellow CMOs and myself, we’ve always tried to ensure that happens to the greatest degree possible.
“Obviously the ways of transmission have occurred at different times, in different countries, and different countries have made their own responses.
“In Wales, ministers have tended to be more cautious then in some other nations and that’s generally been welcomed by the population here – our public surveys suggest that people generally feel that the Welsh Government has done a reasonable job of keeping them safe.
“Some variation is inevitable, but where we can have common solutions that is a strength of the system as well.”
Congratulating Dr Atherton, Wales’ health minister Eluned Morgan said he “continues to play a vital role in tackling the ongoing pandemic and I’m pleased to see his work recognised”.