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COVID-19: Why are coronavirus cases and hospital admissions rising again in the UK?

New real-world data reveals how much vaccine immunity is now waning amongst the oldest and most vulnerable groups, who received their boosters first. Sky News analyses this and the other factors behind a recent rise in cases and hospitalisations.

A combination of three factors – waning vaccine immunity, more social contacts and a new strain of Omicron – has led to a surge in COVID cases and an increase in the number of older people being admitted to hospital.

New real-world data from the UK Health Security Agency suggests that vaccine effectiveness is now waning for the 22 million most vulnerable people in the country who received their booster jab more than 15 weeks ago.

It reveals that people aged 65 and over are three times more likely to need intensive care if they get infected with Omicron 15 weeks or more after their third injection.

After that period, they are 86.8% less likely to need a ventilator than the unvaccinated, compared to 95.8% for those infected within 14 and 34 days of their booster.

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This could be one reason why hospitalisations have risen beyond the January peak for those aged 65 and over, and why the government has this week begun a programme of fourth doses for the most vulnerable groups.

Three reasons for rise in hospitalisations

Professor John Edmunds, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and an attendee at SAGE, says the vaccine waning effect is one of three key reasons why there’s been a recent rise of COVID patients in hospital.

The other two reasons are the prevalence of a more infectious “cousin of Omicron”, and an increase in mobility and social contacts since restrictions were loosened in England on 24 February.

The combination of these two factors has driven infections in England close to the record level set in January, rising by around one million to a total of 4.3 million people across the UK in the week up to 19 March.

Infections in Scotland are at a new high, with one in 11 people infected in the latest week.

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