Day: 5 May 2021

Canada Authorises Use of Pfizer Covid Vaccine for Children

Canada has become the first country to authorise the use of the Pfizer Covid vaccine on children aged 12 to 15. Many other countries are likely to follow suit. BBC News has the story.

[Canada’s] Health Ministry made the decision based on data from phase three clinical trials on children that age. 

“The department determined that this vaccine is safe and effective when used in this younger age group,” an adviser at the Ministry said. Pfizer says its jab works well in the age group.

Canada has already authorised the use of the Pfizer vaccine in people over 16. 

The state of Alberta, which has the highest rate of the virus in the country, said it would offer vaccines to those over 12 from Monday.

Canada has recorded more than 1.2 million coronavirus cases and roughly 20% of those have been in people under the age of 19. 

The country’s vaccine rollout has been relatively slow, caused by delivery delays. About 34% of people in the country have received at least one dose of the vaccine while the figure in the US stands at 44%, according to Our World in Data…

As part of the vaccine’s approval, Pfizer will have to continue providing information to Canada’s Health Ministry on the safety, efficacy and quality of the vaccine in those aged 12 to 15. 

In March, Pfizer said initial results from trials of its vaccine in this age group showed 100% efficacy and a strong immune response.

U.S. regulators are expected to authorise the use of the Pfizer vaccine in the same age group in the coming days, and in the U.K. the NHS is preparing to vaccinate schoolchildren from September, shortly before those aged over 50 will be offered a third Covid vaccine dose.

The BBC News report is worth reading in full.

“The Toxicity of Some of the Chemicals Found Raises the Question of Whether Face Masks are Safe to be Used on a Daily Basis” – Study

A new peer-reviewed study in the scientific journal Water Research has called for a full investigation into face masks as it raises serious questions about their safety for daily use and their impact on the environment.

The study, “An investigation into the leaching of micro and nano particles and chemical pollutants from disposable face masks – linked to the COVID-19 pandemic“, investigated the impact of disposable plastic facemasks (DPFs) on the environment by submerging masks from seven different manufacturers in water then testing the water for chemicals. The researchers found lead, cadmium, antimony and various plastic and organic substances in the water. They expressed concerns about the contribution disposable face masks are making to the world’s plastic problem.

While the focus of the study was on the impact on the environment, the authors were clear about the implications of their findings for the safety of masks for public health. They write: “The toxicity of some of the chemicals found and the postulated risks of the rest of the present particles and molecules, raises the question of whether DPFs are safe to be used on a daily basis and what consequences are to be expected after their disposal into the environment.”

The problems arise from both the toxicity of the chemicals present and how easily they detach from the mask. The authors call for a full investigation into the risks to the environment and public health.

There is a concerning amount of evidence that suggests that DPFs waste can potentially have a substantial environmental impact by releasing pollutants simply by exposing them to water. DPFs release small physical pollutants such as micro and nano size particles; mainly consistent with plastic fibres and silicate grains, which are well documented to have adverse effects on the environment and public health. In addition to the physical particles, harmful chemicals such as heavy metals (lead, cadmium and antimony), and organic pollutants are also readily released from the DPFs when submerged in water. Many of these toxic pollutants have bio-accumulative properties when released into the environment and this research shows that DPFs could be one of the main sources of these environmental contaminants during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. It is, therefore, imperative that stricter regulations need to be enforced during manufacturing and disposal/recycling of DPFs to minimise the environmental impact of DPFs.

Secondary to environmental concerns, there is a need to understand the impact of such particle leaching on public health, as all DPFs released micro/nano particles and heavy metals to the water during our investigation. One of the main concerns with these particles is that they were easily detached from face masks and leached into the water with no agitation, which suggests that these particles are mechanically unstable and readily available to be detached. Therefore, a full investigation is necessary to determine the quantities and potential impacts of these particles leaching into the environment, and the levels being inhaled by users during normal breathing. This is a significant concern, especially for health care professionals, key workers, and children who are mandated to wear masks for large proportions of the working or school day (6–12 hours).

The full article is behind a paywall but the abstract is publicly available and can be found here.

Looks like the makings of another public health calamity with the potential for some very expensive litigation. If I was in Government, given how weak the evidence is for their effectiveness, I’d be looking at phasing face masks out round about now.

Lockdown Sceptic Party Wins Resounding Victory in Spanish Election

Heartening news today ahead of our own elections tomorrow. The People’s Party (PP) in Madrid led by regional assembly President Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who campaigned under a “Freedom” banner and who is credited with keeping lockdown restrictions to a minimum in the city, won 65 of the 136 seats available in the assembly. The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), which is the national governing party, was trounced, receiving just 16.85% of the vote, leaving it with a record low of just 24 seats, down from 37 two years ago. Euronews has more.

The PP’s conservative regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso (PP) had campaigned under the slogan of “Freedom”, championing relaxed COVID-19 measures and criticising the approach of the national government, led by Socialist Pedro Sánchez, to managing the pandemic in Spain.

Ayuso had called the election after the PP’s coalition with the liberal Cuidadanos party collapsed two years into its mandate.

Speaking on Tuesday, she said the results backed her policies of keeping bars, restaurants and other businesses open even at the height of the pandemic to keep the economy moving.

She told voters: voters: “We promise you two more years of freedom of governance, bringing down taxes, protecting public, private and special education. To look after our health care system and to look after all the great things that we have constructed amongst us all.

“We are not going to let you down. We are going to govern with respect and above all else, and I repeat again for the thousandth time we go forward with the flag of freedom leading us. Long live Madrid, Long live Spain.”

Does this mean Laurence Fox is going to do better than expected tomorrow? We can but hope.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Guardian has published its own rather grudging report of last night’s victory for common sense.

A Cartoonist’s View of the Last 18 Months in the Style of the Bayeux Tapestry

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Today we’re publishing a series of cartoons, Bayeux Tapestry-style, by a Lockdown Sceptics reader, telling the story of the global panic caused by the Covid outbreak. He’s a professional cartoonist, but for the sake of his career wishes to go under the name of “Artamer”.

The images change automatically to take you through the story, but you can speed the process up by clicking the right-hand arrow – or go back by clicking the left-hand arrow. To start again at the beginning, refresh the page. (For mobile users, just scroll through the images in the normal way.) Enjoy.

Why is the World’s Most Vaccinated Nation Locking Down Again?

Seychelles, an archipelago nation in the Indian Ocean with a population of about 98,000, is locking down again – even though it has fully vaccinated more than 60% of its adult population with two vaccine doses, more than any other country in the world including Israel.

The country has banned the intermingling of households, closed schools, imposed curfews on bars and cancelled sporting activities for two weeks as infections surge.

The country began vaccinations in January using a donation of Chinese vaccines from the United Arab Emirates. According to Bloomberg, by April 12th, “59% of the doses administered were Sinopharm vaccines and the rest were Covishield, a version of AstraZeneca’s shot made under licence in India.”

The Government put the surge down to people being less careful, particularly over Easter. However, setting aside whether population behaviour is a plausible explanation, this doesn’t explain why the vaccines are not preventing transmission or infection.

Norway to Introduce Covid Vaccine Passports – Will Britain Follow Suit?

Norway is the latest country to announce that it will introduce domestic Covid vaccine passports. Reuters reports:

Norway will introduce verifiable vaccine certificates from early June, allowing holders to use them for admittance to events held in Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Wednesday.

Around a quarter of Norway’s population has so far received a first dose of a vaccine against Covid, while 6.8% has received two doses.

In Hong Kong, a Government mobile app is being used to enable vaccinated people to visit bars and nightclubs – or, rather, to prevent unvaccinated people from doing the same. At restaurants, unvaccinated people must sit in designated areas, away from those who have received a vaccine. Likewise in Germany, people who are fully vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid (as proved by some form of certification) will soon be permitted to engage in certain activities from which others will be barred.

Will the British Government follow suit, as it did after Italy introduced its first lockdown last February? The voices of those thousands who protested against the introduction of vaccine passports in London last month might not have been listened to, but will that of the SAGE psychologist who said on Tuesday that such a scheme could lead to people refusing to get vaccinated against Covid?

We already know that a number of “anti-Covid” measures – such as mask-wearing and caps on numbers attending large events – are likely to stay in place beyond the “end” of lockdown. The Government is said to have told football’s UEFA that crowd sizes at upcoming events will be limited to 45,000. How likely is it that these 45,000 people will have to show proof a Covid status certificate on entry to prove they don’t have Covid? MailOnline reports that the potential use of domestic vaccine passports remains unclear:

Covid vaccine passports have already been confirmed for when foreign travel resumes on May 17th but exactly how they’ll be deployed domestically remains unknown.

The PM has ruled out using them for going to the pub or supermarket but the Government is currently trialling a similar system for larger events such as concerts, sports matches and club nights.

Stop Press: The NHS mobile app, which is in line to be used as a vaccine passport for overseas travel, may not be ready in time for when holiday restrictions (partially) ease on May 17th, according to Metro.

England and Wales See Seventh Consecutive Week of Negative Excess Deaths

The ONS announced today that there were 9,941 deaths in England and Wales in the week ending April 23rd, which is 497 fewer than the previous week. In addition, this week’s number is 5% below the five-year average, and marks the seventh consecutive week of “negative excess deaths”. Here’s the chart from the ONS:

Over the last seven weeks of ONS reports, there were 5,511 fewer deaths than you’d expect based on the average of the last five years. And recall that, because the population is ageing, the five-year average slightly understates the expected number of deaths. So the true level of “negative excess mortality” is even higher.

The number of deaths registered in the week ending April 23rd was below the five-year average in eight out of nine English regions. (Only London saw positive excess deaths.) Compared to the five-year average, weekly deaths were 6.8% lower in Wales, and 8.1% lower in the South East.

At the beginning of April, David Spiegelhalter and Anthony Masters wrote a piece suggesting a number of possible reasons for the low number of deaths in England and Wales: mild weather; fewer road accidents and flu deaths due to lockdown; and deaths having been “brought forward” by the pandemic.

Given that we are no longer in winter or the flu season, and there has been an increase in mobility since March, it seems unlikely that the first three factors they mentioned can account for more than a small share of the “negative excess deaths” observed in April. Rather, this phenomenon is probably explained by deaths having been “brought forward” by the pandemic.

Current Level of Depression More Than Double What it Was Before the First Lockdown

New data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) provides an insight into the extent of the damage done to the nation’s mental health by a year of lockdowns. Most notably, the percentage of British adults who experienced some form of depression in the first months of 2021 was more than double that recorded before the first lockdown began. Here are the key findings:

Around one in five (21%) adults aged 16 years and over in Great Britain experienced some form of depression (indicated by moderate to severe depressive symptoms) in early 2021 (January 27th to March 7th), an increase from 19% in November 2020. Rates in early 2021 were more than double those observed before the coronavirus pandemic, where 10% of adults experienced some form of depression.

…Younger adults and people living with a child aged under 16 years had the largest increases in rates of depressive symptoms in early 2021, when compared with pre-pandemic levels.

For adults aged 16 to 39 years, rates in early 2021 were more than double (29%) when compared with before the pandemic (11%). In comparison, 10% of adults aged 70 years and over experienced some form of depression in early 2021, compared with 5% before the pandemic.

In early 2021, around one in three (35%) adults who reported being unable to afford an unexpected but necessary expense of £850 experienced some form of depression, compared with one in five (21%) adults before the pandemic. For adults who were able to afford this expense, 13% experienced depressive symptoms in early 2021, increasing from 5% before the pandemic…

After controlling for sex and other characteristics, when compared with those aged 70 years and over, younger adults continued to be more likely to experience some form of depression, with adults aged 16 to 29 years having the highest odds of all age groups.

At the same time, the quality of the treatment given to mental health patients has fallen because of the (lockdown-induced) difficulty – and, at times, impossibility – of in-person meetings. We recently covered a study that found that for some patients, video calls made matters worse.

The ONS report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Mail has run a story about GPs’ “fears over a lockdown depression time bomb”.

Over-50s to Be Offered Third Covid Vaccine Before Winter

Rumours that a third Covid vaccine dose will be rolled out later this year have been confirmed by plans to offer the over-50s and those with underlying health conditions an extra dose before Christmas. Younger people are not expected to be included in the scheme. The Times has the story.

Trials of two options are underway, supervised by Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England.

The first involves vaccines specifically modified to tackle new variants. The second is for a third shot of one of the three versions already in use: Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca or Moderna. While the approved vaccines successfully tackle the Kent variant, the amount of protection they offer against others, such as that from South Africa, is weaker.

The Times has been told that early findings from the trials have raised Government hopes that the two approaches will be able to nullify any threat from new and existing variants.

It is also thought that it will only be necessary to give a third jab to the over-50s and those with underlying health conditions, who are at higher risk. One way of delivering the booster would be at the same time as the annual flu jab, but in the other arm.

A senior Government minister said: “We will have a lot to say about the booster programme soon. It’s looking really positive so far.

“We think that the level of protection in the population to any variant will be so high that by Christmas, Covid should have just faded away into the background like any other illness in circulation. So much so that we don’t think there will be any need to give a booster shot to younger people because transmission will have got so low.” …

Last night Matt Hancock announced £29 million to build state-of-the-art laboratories to speed up tests on the effectiveness of new vaccines and booster jabs. The money will allow the Government’s facilities in Porton Down to significantly expand the number of blood samples they analyse for antibodies from 700 a week to 3,000.

Nadhim Zahawi, the Vaccines Minister, said the multi-million pound investment in testing facilities at Porton Down would “future-proof” the U.K. against new variants of Covid. “We need to make sure we have vaccine variants that are ready for any virus variant that may escape,” he told Sky News.

The Government’s concern about Covid variants will no doubt have been fuelled by those SAGE scientists, including Professor Neil Ferguson, who believe that a “more normal” summer is possible but that variants continue to pose a threat.

The Times report is worth reading in full.

News Round Up