More than four in 10 over-80s who received a coronavirus vaccine during the current lockdown appear to have since broken the rules by meeting up with someone indoors, figures suggest.
Some 43% of elderly people surveyed by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said they had met someone other than a personal care support worker, member of their household or support bubble indoors since being vaccinated.
And 41% of over-80s vaccinated in the previous three weeks said they had done so, “appearing to break lockdown regulations”, according to the ONS.
Under rules introduced in England at the start of January, family or friends cannot meet socially indoors unless they are in the same household or support bubble.
The ONS said a large proportion of over-80s will have been vaccinated after the latest lockdown was imposed and therefore “would have been breaking lockdown regulations by meeting these groups socially”.
Downing Street said it is important people continue to follow the rules.
Asked if the elderly are behaving irresponsibly, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We are asking everybody to continue to follow the rules and guidelines.”
The ONS Over 80s Vaccines Insights study ran from February 15 to 20, by which point the Government said it had offered the jab to everyone in the top four priority groups, which includes the over-80s.
It polled 2,070 over-80s in England, with around 1% residing in a care or nursing home.
Some 99.8% of respondents said they had been offered a jab, and 78% had received their first dose more than three weeks ago.
Overall, 48% of over-80s who had received both vaccine doses had since met up with someone indoors who was not in their household, support bubble or a care worker.
Two-thirds (67%) had met with someone they do not live with indoors since getting the jab, which could include members of their support bubble and care workers.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said she hopes older people’s confidence in the vaccine will help them feel able to engage with society when safe.
She said it was not a surprise that some over-80s may not have “abided by the letter of the lockdown guidance”, because many families will have felt the need to pop in to help them.
Loneliness and depression will have led some to conclude that “it’s better to take a calculated risk in this respect than feel profoundly miserable on their own”.
She said: “I broke the rules myself a few weeks ago by helping a neighbour in her 90s understand an official letter that was worrying her.
“She is bedbound and hard of hearing and insisted on talking to me to face to face. I was very conscious of the potential risk of infection and took all the precautions I could. It felt like the right thing to do and I imagine many others have found themselves in similar positions.
“When situations like this arise it’s down to us all to be responsible and use our common sense.”
The survey found a third of those who had received both doses, and a quarter of those who had received one, said they would now be more likely to attend hospital if necessary.
Meanwhile, 31% of those who had received both doses, and 26% of those who had one, said they would be somewhat more likely to leave home for another medical reason, such as to attend a GP appointment.
Of all over-80s surveyed, 96% said they would be very or somewhat likely to encourage others to get a jab.
Almost half (49%) considered coronavirus to be a major or significant risk to them before getting a jab, falling to 19% considering the hypothetical risk after one dose and 5% after two doses.
Tim Gibbs, from the ONS public services analysis team, said: “The rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination is, no doubt, a huge relief to many people aged over 80, as we can see that almost half of all them, when asked, considered Covid-19 to be a major or significant personal risk before receiving the vaccination. This decreases to just 5% having the same concern after hypothetically receiving both doses of the vaccine.
“We hope to start to see these wider positive effects of the vaccine rollout as it continues across more age groups in the coming weeks.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Vaccines are the best way to protect people from Covid-19 and will save thousands of lives, but none of us can afford to let our guard down by switching off from the rules.
“It is imperative that people continue to stay at home where possible, vaccinated or not, to protect people around them.”