Day: 29 April 2021

23% Of British Health Workers Wary of Covid Vaccine, According to New Research

New research, which has not yet been peer reviewed, suggests that almost a quarter of British healthcare workers are hesitant about taking a Covid vaccine. Key reasons include concern about the speed of vaccine development, presuming Covid immunity because of previous infection and a lack of trust in the Government. As expected, ethnicity was also a major factor. The Guardian has the story.

Up to a quarter of British healthcare workers have expressed hesitancy towards Covid vaccines, the first comprehensive study of NHS and care staff suggests. Conspiracy beliefs, a paucity of black and ethnic minority participants in vaccine trials, or assuming immunity to Covid because of previous infection were some of the key reasons cited.

“Understanding these drivers is important, because without this understanding you can’t implement any interventions,” said Dr Manish Pareek, Associate Clinical Professor in Infectious Diseases at the University of Leicester who led the study.

Pareek and his colleagues previously identified lower rates of vaccine uptake among black and south Asian health staff, workers under 30, and those living in more deprived areas. To better understand the reasons for this hesitancy, they recruited 11,584 clinical and non-clinical staff working for the NHS and other health providers, such as dental practices and pharmacies. As well as completing detailed questionnaires about their attitudes to Covid vaccination, some of the participants were interviewed more extensively to better understand their concerns.

The research… found that 23% of health staff, were hesitant about Covid vaccines, and that hesitancy was more common among BAME health workers, particularly those from black Caribbean groups. However, some white healthcare workers were also hesitant, particularly those in white other ethnic groups. Younger staff, pregnant women and those who had not taken up the flu vaccine were also more hesitant – as were those who had previously tested positive for Covid…

Other leading reasons for hesitancy included concerns about how safe the vaccine was due to the speed of development and – particularly for black African and Caribbean health workers – the lack of ethnic diversity in vaccine studies. Experiences of discrimination and structural inequalities also contributed to hesitancy among these groups.

New NHS data shows that almost a fifth of staff at older care homes in England have still not had a first dose of a Covid vaccine. The Government is currently conducting a consultation on whether to make Covid vaccination a “condition of deployment” for care home staff.

The Guardian’s report is worth reading in full.

Update on EU’s Vaccine Passport Scheme

We have an update today on yesterday’s vote in the European Parliament, which essentially waved through the Commission’s plans to roll out a vaccine passport scheme across the EU, which we covered yesterday. This is a guest post from a source within the EU.

In Brussels yesterday the European Parliament adopted a negotiating position on the Commission’s Digital Green Certificate proposal. 575 MEPs voted for a compromise text, with 80 against and 40 abstentions.

Voting took place remotely after three hours of speeches to a mostly empty chamber.

The Commission’s desire to create a universal system of health check points within the EU was apparent before the Plenary Session. During the debate it became increasingly clear that these checks will be taking place beyond Member State borders.

MEPs were resigned to passing the Regulation in order to “return to normal” even if it “puts Schengen at stake”.

Voter concerns that European society would be divided were occasionally relayed, usually as a prefix to a bald statement that the DGC would neither discriminate nor function as a pass for entry into Member States.

A handful of MEPs asked to examine the Proposal more critically.

With Parliament’s approval – and the three EU Institutions already in alignment – negotiations between Commission, Council and Parliament on the final text will be a mere formality.

We can expect the rubberstamp by June, ushering in a sophisticated and probably enduring system of health checks across Europe, enhanced by the draconian Passenger Locator Form, also on its way to becoming law.

Arizonan Parents Take Over School Board and Reverse Mask Mandate

Earlier this month Arizonan Governor Doug Ducey signed an executive order lifting the requirement for staff and pupils to wear face masks at school. The order also permitted school districts and charter schools to “institute and enforce” mask-wearing policies – among other “anti-Covid” measures – if they so wished. The Post Millennial has published a great report on how some parents in Vale, Arizona, responded when they found out that their local school board had decided to keep the mask mandate in place.

The school board in the town of Vail, Arizona, had implemented a mask mandate in public schools. Parents weren’t having it, so they showed up at the Vail School Board meeting to tell the Board to make the masks optional. Even before the meeting began, the Board walked out in protest.

So what did the parents do? On Tuesday, they voted in a new School Board on the spot, then voted to end mandatory masking in Vail Schools. Parents gathered outside the School Board meeting to make their positions known…

Vail was one of those school districts that decided to continue the mask mandate through the end of the school year, noting that they intended to discuss the plans. In response, parents showed up at the scheduled meeting to state their preference for the masking orders to be lifted.

With parents in the parking lot, carrying signs that read “unmask the kids”, the School Board cancelled the meeting right before it was set to start. They cited “safety concerns”.

After the Board cancelled the meeting, the parents demanded to speak with the Board. Only a few were allowed to do so, while the rest crowded into the building. The Sheriff was called in. It didn’t quell the parents or their demands to free their kids from masking in schools.

One parent told local news: “These are my rights as a parent and they don’t get to decide how I raise them and what I believe is true and factual. It’s disgusting what’s being done and I don’t agree with it. I don’t. When you look at the flu, it also causes death. It also hurts people.” …

A video of the aftermath of the School Board walkout shows parents organising and taking charge in a very orderly, if impassioned way. They figure out how many School Board members are needed, and go about nominating, seconding, and confirming School Board members who are eligible to serve, based on the Roberts Rule of Order.

Once the fifth School Board member was elected, the brand new Vail School Board took up a meeting, and the first order of business was to do exactly what their predecessors had refused to do – make masking optional.

One of the new Board members, Anastasia, says: “I motion that the entire Vail School District be free of mask policy and it will be optional to all teachers and students alike, with no fear of retribution.”

Amid cheering, another Board Member seconds the motion, and it passes unanimously.

A great example of change being brought about from the grassroots up. But will the local authorities allow it to pass?

“School officials say district leaders are working on a letter to send to all parents as a reminder that the mask mandate remains in place,” reported local news.

Worth reading in full.

PHE Figures Show Cases Down in Every Region and Fewer Over-80s Catching Virus Than Ever – So Why Seven More Weeks of Restrictions?

Cases are down in every region of England and fewer over-80s are catching the virus than ever before, according to the latest figures from PHE. So why are restrictions not being lifted for another seven weeks? What happened to data not dates? MailOnline has more.

Public Health England’s weekly Covid report found just 6.3 per 100,000 people in the most vulnerable age group caught the disease in the week ending April 25th, the lowest since surveillance data began last June. The infection rate among over-80s peaked at 623 in mid-January.

For over-60s, the rate was 9.1, down from 9.9 the week before and a high of 454 at the peak of the second wave. Both lockdown restrictions and vaccines — which were given to the elderly first — have helped turn the tide on the crisis.

Every English region also saw falls in cases in the past week — despite millions more tests being deployed — with the lowest rates recorded in the South West (14.2), South East (17.2) and the East of England (20.5).

Meanwhile, the Department of Health’s daily update revealed there were 2,445 cases in the past 24 hours and 22 deaths, with infections down 10% from a week ago and deaths up slightly on the 18th last Thursday.

Latest figures show another 462,000 second and 134,000 first vaccine doses were dished out on Tuesday. It means more than 34 million Britons have had at least one dose and 14 million have been fully vaccinated.

Experts said the UK was moving out of the Covid pandemic and into a situation that was much more manageable after separate figures showed the number of people falling ill across Britain is also at a record low.

But despite a plethora of evidence showing the virus is firmly in retreat, England faces at least seven more weeks of restrictions. June 21st has been earmarked as the earliest possible date that most curbs can be lifted.

Worth reading in full.

More False Positives Than True Positives in the First Two Weeks of School Testing

A member of SAGE warned back in February that the return of unvaccinated children to the classroom would create a “significant risk of a resurgence” of Covid infections. This was not the case – only 0.06% of rapid Covid tests of students produced positive results in the week that schools reopened. But how many of these results were actually positive? Professor Jon Deeks, a biostatistician from the University of Birmingham, said in March: “We would expect far more false positives than true positives amongst those testing positive in schools.” New data from the Department of Health and Social Care has now confirmed that more false positive results were produced than true positives in the first two weeks of school testing.

Department of Health and Social Care

This data, as Professor Deeks points out, is a damning indictment of the use of rapid Covid testing in schools and has resulted in many children having to isolate at home unnecessarily – with their classmates often being sent home too. (At one stage, more than 200,000 schoolchildren were having to self-isolate, forcing them to miss out on much-needed catch-up work in classes.)

[The] proportion[s] false were 62% and 55% in these two weeks.

Of 2,304 positive tests, 1,353 were likely false, with one positive per 6,900 tests done.

The use of PCR tests to confirm or (in more cases) deny lateral flow test results is itself a strange choice, as Lockdown Sceptics’ Will Jones points out, and could mean that the true impact of rapid testing in schools is even worse than this data suggests.

It is interesting that they assume confirmation from a PCR test defines true and false positives, even though PCR tests are more sensitive than LFTs so are no less likely to give a positive from fragments or contamination. What if in some cases the PCR tests are just confirming the false positive of the lateral flow tests?

The British Medical Journal has been warning against the use of PCR tests for “case finding, mass screening, and disease surveillance” since last September (if not before):

PCR is not a test of infectiousness. Rather, the test detects trace amounts of viral genome sequence, which may be either live transmissible virus or irrelevant RNA fragments from previous infection. When people with symptoms or who have been recently exposed receive a positive PCR result they will probably be infectious. But a positive result in someone without symptoms or known recent exposure may be from live or dead virus, and so does not determine whether the person is infectious and able to transmit the virus to others.

Clearly, testing requirements for schools must now change. But the problem is not limited to the classroom. Professor Deeks says that false positive data should now be released for all forms of lateral flow testing.

U.K. Child Abuse Helpline Contacted Almost 85,000 Times during Lockdowns

A U.K. children’s charity says that messages and calls to its helpline have risen to record levels over the past year of lockdowns. The most frequently raised concerns were about neglect, parental mental health and physical and mental abuse. BBC News has the story.

Children’s charity the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) says calls and messages to its helpline have risen to record levels during the pandemic. 

In the year to March 2021 the helpline was contacted almost 85,000 times, up 23% on the previous year.

The figures amplify fears that children who could not go to school during the lockdowns were more vulnerable to abuse and neglect, says the NSPCC. 

Chief Executive Sir Peter Wanless says Government recovery plans must address the harm children may have faced. 

“We’ve been hearing first-hand about the immense pressures families have faced during the pandemic and the heavy toll that has taken on children and young people. 

“For some children this has included experiencing abuse, bereavement and other harm,” said Sir Peter…

Of the 85,000 contacts to the helpline, the NSPCC says almost half, 47%, led to a referral – for example to police or children’s services. 

The most frequently raised concern was about adult or parental behaviour, including: 

~ alcohol or other substance misuse

~ domestic abuse

~ parental mental health

Other issues raised included neglect, physical abuse and emotional abuse.

NSPCC’s Chief Executive said children should be placed at the centre of the Government’s plans for the recovery from lockdown. The findings from this charity echo previous reports on the “pandemic of mental health problems” among children as a result of lockdowns, caused not only by domestic abuse but by the banning of social contact and, for example, the closing of children’s playgrounds.

Worth reading in full.

News Round Up

Vaccines Cut Household Transmission in Half After One Dose

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has described as “terrific” the findings of a new Public Health England study that shows one dose of the vaccines can cut household transmission by up to 50%.

This is indeed good news – and not unexpected, since the vaccines have been shown to reduce symptoms, and symptomatic disease is what drives transmission.

However, it’s worth being aware that this is the relative risk reduction. The absolute risk reduction (as always) does not look quite so impressive.

In fact, one of the remarkable findings of the study is that of 960,765 unvaccinated household contacts of unvaccinated index cases testing positive, just 10.1% of them (96,898) caught the disease. This means around 90% of unvaccinated people living in the same house as someone with COVID-19 didn’t catch it themselves. This low secondary attack rate is an indication of the level of immunity the population already has to the virus, whether from innate, pre-existing or acquired immunity, even before vaccines come into the picture.

The study identified 3,424 unvaccinated household contacts of index cases who tested positive despite receiving their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at least 21 days earlier. Of these, 196 tested positive themselves, giving a secondary attack rate of 5.7%.

For the Pfizer vaccine the same figures were 371 secondary cases testing positive out of 5,939 unvaccinated household contacts, giving a secondary attack rate of 6.3%.

This means in absolute terms the risk for household members of catching Covid from an infected household index case was reduced from around 10% when the index case was an unvaccinated person to around 6% when he or she was vaccinated, a drop of 4%. This is encouraging, if not as big as might be hoped – though it may improve after the second dose.

For unexplained reasons the study does not look at symptoms at all, so we have no idea how many of the vaccinated positive cases were asymptomatic or how severe their symptoms were. Other studies suggest that positive cases are more likely to be asymptomatic or mild in those with immunity (whether from infection or vaccination) and this is likely to explain much of the drop in secondary attack rate for the household contacts of index cases who are vaccinated but test positive.

This cheering news on the effectiveness of the vaccines for cutting transmission gives the Government even less reason to stick to its glacial reopening strategy.