Day: 20 April 2021

Just 32 people in Hospital with Covid After Vaccination

Just 32 vaccinated people were hospitalised with COVID-19 in recent months, according to “extraordinary” real world data showing the effectiveness of Britain’s immunisation programme. Scientists are preparing to hand findings to the Government’s advisers on Thursday, showing the dramatic impact of first doses on hospitalisations and deaths. The Telegraph has more.

The findings revealed by the Telegraph will… raise questions regarding the Government’s caution about the return to normality, and reluctance to promise any new freedoms for those who have been vaccinated.

On Tuesday, Mr Johnson said he saw no reason to deviate from the “cautious but irreversible” roadmap.

He said “science is helping us to get back towards normality” as he set out aims to develop at least two new treatments that people can take at home if they test positive for COVID-19.

The research on COVID-19 patients admitted to UK hospitals examined the outcomes for all patients – including those who had received at least one jab, and had sufficient time to build immunity. Early findings show that of 74,405 COVID-19 cases admitted to hospitals between September and March, just 32 had received a vaccine at least three weeks before.

Scientists said the findings – which amount to around one case per 2,300 patients – showed that vaccines worked “extraordinarily well”, offering protection far above the levels which had been anticipated.

The full data is due to be handed to ministers later this week, after updated findings are passed to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) on Wednesday.

Worth reading in full.

Mass Covid Testing a “Waste of Time and Money”, MPs Told

Biostatistics Professor Jon Deeks has criticised the Government’s mass Covid testing plan as a waste of “time and money”, highlighting that in some areas only one positive case has been found after 10,000 tests. Professor Deeks, a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Applied Health Research at Birmingham University, told the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus that there is “no evidence” to show mass testing works. He is quoted in the Telegraph:

“For this mass test, the Innova test, we have the Liverpool study and the University of Birmingham study, that’s a total of 78 cases where we know how well it detects (positive cases).

“That is absolutely outrageous that we are now testing the whole population based effectively on data from 78 people, which actually showed it doesn’t work very well…

“In the South West at the moment, I think we are down to 0.09% prevalence and that probably means we would be using 10,000 tests to find one case in the next few weeks.

“I don’t think that’s a good use of people’s time or money or public health capital to do that. There are far better things we could be doing.”

The APPG is chaired by Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who said: “[Mass testing] seems to be the panacea at the moment… [but] how reliable is it?”

Earlier this month, the Government promised twice-weekly Covid tests for everyone in England. Sky News had the story.

The Government says the offer is currently for England only and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will make their own decisions.

A major marketing campaign encouraging people to take up the offer of twice-weekly lateral flow tests will also start in England this Friday…

The programme is effectively the long-delayed “Operation Moonshot” of 10 million Covid tests a day, costing an estimated £100 billion, promised by Health Secretary Matt Hancock last summer.

When he told the Commons it would start as early as December, MPs laughed, prompting Mr Hancock to brand them “nay-sayers” and telling them to “get with the programme”.

Now the Government says that alongside vaccination, regular Covid testing will be an essential part of easing lockdown restrictions and help quickly suppress the spread of variants.

The Telegraph report is worth reading in full.

Civil Service Job Advert Confirms Covid Passports Are In Development

Michael Gove is visiting Israel to review its ‘green pass’ scheme as part of his ongoing review into Covid passports – but new civil service job ads suggest that the introduction of ‘Covid Status Certificates’ (both digital or non-digital) is already underway. Guido Fawkes has the story.

Multiple jobs have now come up in both London and Leeds with NHSX [the tech arm of the NHS], which spells out they are: “Developing both digital and non-digital options to enable U.K. residents to assert their Covid status, including both vaccination history and test results.”

The ad also confirms a rapid timetable, given applicants must be able “to start with us by Tuesday, May 4th, 2021“. The consultation document released by the Government a fortnight ago merely said they had “committed to explore whether and how Covid-status certification might be used to reopen our economy”. Sounds like the “exploring” is over…

It doesn’t take an incredible memory to remember back to February when [Vaccine Minister] Nadhim Zahawi was confidently telling Andrew Marr Covid passports would be “discriminatory”.

In a recent article for the Telegraph – in which he asked readers to give their thoughts on Covid passports and received some great (though not, for him, agreeable) responses – Gove praised Israel’s ‘green pass’ scheme and considered whether something similar could be introduced here.

In Israel, which is one of the few countries to have vaccinated a higher percentage of the population than we have in the U.K., they have been using a ‘green pass’ to get back to normal more quickly. This green pass system allows citizens who’ve been vaccinated, recently recovered from the virus or who’ve had a recent negative test to congregate in venues which had been closed for months such as theatres and nightclubs…

If we do accept that Covid certification is going to be required to travel abroad, the question then follows can these certificates help in other ways? If Israel can accelerate its citizens’ returns to nightclubs, football stadia and theatres with these certificates, might we?

The Guido Fawkes report is worth reading in full.

Warning About Blood Clots Should be Added to Labels for Johnson & Johnson’s Covid Vaccine, Says E.U.’s Medicines Regulator

There is a “possible link” between the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid vaccine and blood clots, according to the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The regulator says that a warning should be added to labels for the vaccine. Sky News has the story.

The EMA says it has found a possible link between the J&J Covid vaccine and very rare cases of unusual blood clots.

European regulators say that unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should now be listed as “very rare” side effects of the vaccine.

But they stressed that the “overall benefits of the vaccine in preventing Covid outweigh the risks of side effects”.

The new warning is based on eight “serious” cases in the U.S., one of which resulted in the person dying.

All eight people were under the age of 60 and developed clots within three weeks of vaccination, the EMA said, with the majority of cases being women.

They were “very similar to the cases that occurred with the Covid vaccine developed by AstraZeneca”, it added.

The Guardian has more on the next steps for the J&J vaccine.

The EMA has said a warning about very unusual blood clots should be added to labels for J&J’s Covid vaccine…

J&J advised European governments to store their doses until the E.U. drug regulator issued guidance on their use; widespread use of the shot in Europe has not yet started.

The delay is a further blow to vaccination efforts in the European Union, which have been plagued by supply shortages, logistical problems, and concerns over blood clots from those who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Sky News report is worth reading in full.

Ministers Created Confusion by Not Differentiating Between Lockdown Guidance and Law, Police Watchdog Says

The Police have not been given enough notice about changes in the law and Government guidance relating to Covid over the past year, and confusion has been added by ministers failing to differentiate between the two, according to Britain’s police regulator. A report published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services says that “mistakes were made” by the police because of unclear messaging from the Government.

[Officers’ difficulty in enforcing the law was made difficult] by a widespread confusion in relation to the status of Government announcements and statements by ministers. Ministers asserting that their guidance – which had no higher status than requests – were in fact “instructions to the British people” inevitably confused people. In some cases, police officers misunderstood the distinction, and appeared to believe that ministerial instructions were equivalent to the criminal law. 

For example, the two-metre distancing “rule” has only ever been in guidance (aside from some requirements on the hospitality sector such as licensed premises and restaurants). The request to “stay local” has never been a legal requirement. The suggested limits on the number of times a person could go out to exercise in a day and for how long were only ever in guidance, not regulations.

Some forces told us that they sought legal advice on the regulations so that they could produce clear guidance for their workforces. But the speed with which regulations were made and amended (usually by being added to) was great. And to many, the distinction between law and guidance remained uncertain.

In these circumstances, mistakes were made. During the initial lockdown, there was significant media coverage of what was often described as police overreach. High-profile examples included road checks to identify unnecessary journeys, drone surveillance of people in open and almost deserted places, and police action in relation to non-essential shopping and what was thought to be excessive exercise.

The exhortation only to take “essential journeys” was no more than guidance; it was not the law.

The report adds that the muddling up of the law with Government guidelines in these high-profile cases damaged public confidence in the police.

It is not the function of the police to treat Government guidance, however well-intentioned (as it undoubtedly was), as rules of the criminal law. Ministers may create criminal offences only if authorised by parliament to do so; they may not do so by the simple expedient of demanding action from a podium or behind a lectern. 

And as difficulties arose and some well-publicised mistakes were made, public confidence in, and support for, the police were inevitably put at risk.

Worth reading in full.

More Than 810,000 UK Workers Have Lost Jobs Since March 2020

56,000 Brits lost their jobs last month, taking the total number of losses to 813,000 over the past year of lockdowns, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). While the continued existence of the furlough scheme is likely masking the true impact of lockdowns on the unemployment rate, ONS officials say there are some reasons to be optimistic. The Mail has the story.

More than 813,000 workers have lost their jobs since the start of the Covid crisis, it emerged today…

But there were further signs that the jobs sector is stabilising, with the first quarterly fall in the unemployment rate since 2019 between December and February and statistics signalling a near-16% jump in vacancies in March.

The unemployment rate eased back further to 4.9% from 5% in the previous three months, the ONS said.

Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the ONS, said: “The latest figures suggest that the jobs market has been broadly stable in recent months after the major shock of last spring.

“The number of people on payroll fell slightly in March after a few months of growth.

“There are, though, over 800,000 fewer employees than before the pandemic struck, and with around five million people employed but still on furlough, the labour market remains subdued.

“However, with the prospect of businesses reopening, there was a marked rise in job vacancies in March, especially in sectors such as hospitality.”

BBC News reports that young people continue to bear the brunt of the crisis due to damage done to the hospitality and retail sectors.

People under 25 accounted for more than half of the payroll jobs lost in the year to March, it said – some 436,000 positions.

The Mail‘s report is worth reading in full.

You Can Catch Covid Twice – But it’s Very Rare and Very Mild

Can you catch Covid twice? The challenge trials at Oxford University have now turned their attention to this question, deliberately exposing people who have had the disease before to the virus again to see how their immune systems respond.

Other studies have already looked into this question, though without the controversial deliberate exposure aspect. The most recent, published in the Lancet last week, tested around 3,000 U.S. Marine recruits aged 18-20 for Covid antibodies and then followed them over six weeks while they completed basic training together to see how many became infected. The living in close quarters would likely have ensured that all were exposed to the virus.

The study found that around 10% of seropositive (with-antibodies) participants (19 out of 189) tested PCR positive for the virus versus around 50% of seronegative participants (1,079 out of 2,247). This means that having antibodies from a previous infection gives about 80% protection from testing positive for the virus again. This finding closely matches that of a large Danish study published last month, that found those who had tested positive for the virus in the spring were about 80% less likely to test positive again in the autumn. And also a UK study of NHS workers from January that found being PCR positive for the virus at one point made workers around 80% less likely to test positive again at a later date.

The new study was being used last week to promote the idea of vaccinating young people who had previously been infected, on the grounds that protection via infection was not enough. Thus Sky News reported: “Young people who have already tested positive for coronavirus are not fully protected against reinfection.”

The study itself supported this use, stating its results suggest “COVID-19 vaccination might be necessary for control of the pandemic in previously infected young adults”. Professor Stuart Sealfon of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, and senior author of the study, said:

As vaccine rollouts continue to gain momentum it is important to remember that, despite a prior COVID-19 infection, young people can catch the virus again and may still transmit it to others. Immunity is not guaranteed by past infection, and vaccinations that provide additional protection are still needed for those who have had COVID-19.

What such claims appear not to allow for is that questions are being asked about how the balance of risks stacks up for young people to be vaccinated even when they have not had Covid, let alone when they have and have 80% protection already. To this balance must be added that severe side-effects are considerably more common in those who have previously had Covid.

The 80% protection figure is also not the full story on immunity following infection. Noteworthy is that symptomatic infection was much less common among those who had antibodies. In fact, only three out of 19 (16%) seropositive PCR positives were symptomatic, versus 347 out of 1,079 (32%) seronegative PCR positives. The large proportion of PCR positive infections that are asymptomatic even among those without antibodies (68%) may be an indication of the high degree of pre-existing immunity among the young.

The infections among those with antibodies were also much less likely to be infectious, with average Ct of 27-28 versus around 24 for the seronegative infections (Ct or cycle threshold corresponds inversely to viral load, which corresponds to infectiousness). This translates to a viral load about ten times lower, which is considerably less infectious.

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