Day: 20 May 2021

We Shouldn’t Vaccinate Children as a Matter of Principle Because of the Side Effects, Says Government Vaccine Adviser

Adam Finn, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Bristol and a member of the Government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), was on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning (around the 50 minute mark) taking a surprisingly strong line against vaccinating children because of the “side effects”. Here’s an edited transcript of what he said:

The main priority at the moment is to try and immunise as many people as possible who are at risk of getting really sick with this virus, because that’s the one thing we want avoid is another big surge of hospitalisations and deaths, and that isn’t going to happen in children. … Children are very rarely seriously affected by this infection. …

The evidence we’ve got with children, particularly young children, is that they are not very infectious to each other or to adults around them and that the majority of the transmission of the infection is in the adult population in fact. …

There is a certain amount of transmission going in secondary schools, so in teenagers, but in fact we’ve been surprised about how little transmission we’ve picked up in schools and of course this time around there’s been a lot more testing and awareness of what’s going in schools. …

In normal times, just as in pandemic times, we simply wouldn’t want to immunise anybody without needing to. It’s an invasive thing to do, it costs money, and it causes a certain amount of discomfort, and vaccines have side effects. So if we can control this virus without immunising children we shouldn’t immunise children as a matter of principle. …

I’m optimistic that we in particular in the U.K., with the high coverage we’re achieving and the extremely effective vaccine we’ve got, that we can achieve population immunity and I’m afraid it’s an open question as to whether we need to immunise any children at all and if we do how many children we need to immunise.

This is quite a change of tune for Professor Finn, who last month told BBC Breakfast that children had been “left behind” in vaccination and vaccine trials, saying: “We’re impatient now to get on and do the necessary trials in children so that these vaccines can start to be used, and actually circumstances are holding us back so it’s a very frustrating situation to be in.”

He did add, though, that side-effects appeared to be worse in younger people: “There is evidence for more or less all of the vaccines against Covid that the side-effect rate, the reactogenicity that we see, basically goes up the younger you are.”

At the time of these earlier comments the AstraZeneca trials in children were paused while the MHRA investigated blood clot links. What has Professor Finn seen since then that persuaded him that maybe vaccinating children isn’t so pressing after all? Is this a sign that the side-effects, at least in the young, are beginning to be taken seriously by the Government?

Almost 90% Of English and Welsh Neighbourhoods Saw Zero Covid Deaths in April

Covid accounted for just 2.4% of the deaths registered in England in April – a month in which nearly 90% of the more than 7,000 neighbourhoods in England and Wales reported zero Covid deaths. The MailOnline has the story.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data reveal April was the first month since August 2020 where the number of deaths was below the five-year average, with fewer than 1,000 virus-linked fatalities.

The overall death rate in England – 851.2 per 100,000 people – was the lowest rate for April since the ONS started recording mortality rates in 2001. 

MailOnline analysis shows the proportion of English and Welsh neighbourhoods with zero deaths increased from 57.9% in March to 87.6% last month – some 6,301 areas.

Just ten areas saw three deaths each, which was the highest amount for any postcode.

The ONS data also revealed that Covid was just the ninth leading cause of death in England last month – its lowest ranking since September 2020. Heart disease and dementia were the leading killers.

A total of 941 deaths were due to coronavirus in April, the equivalent of 2.4% of all deaths registered in England. Another 35 were recorded in Wales…

Professor Tim Spector, the epidemiologist who leads [King’s College London’s symptom-tracking app], said [the Indian Covid variant] “hasn’t altered numbers significantly” and outbreaks remain focused in hotspots, such as Bolton. “While the outbreaks remain localised and U.K. numbers are steady and most cases appear mild, it’s highly unlikely to cause the NHS to be overrun or stop us coming out of lockdown,” he said.

Meanwhile, Public Health England bosses hailed “hugely encouraging” data that showed cases remained “stable” nationally at around 12,000 last week, and dropped in all age groups except 5 to 9 year-olds. Hospitalisations with the virus also fell across the country, while infection rates dipped in every region except the North West, which is struggling against an outbreak of the Indian strain.

Britain today also recorded just seven Covid deaths as the fatality toll continues to drop. Meanwhile, infections are flat with another 2,874 positive tests recorded. For comparison, 11 deaths and 2,657 cases were posted this time last week. 

Despite the fear being spread regarding the Indian Covid variant, the case for a full unlock grows stronger by the day.

The MailOnline report is worth reading in full.

People Ignoring Government’s “Very Clear” Guidance against Travelling to “Amber List” Countries

The Government’s attempts to dissuade Brits from holidaying in countries on the travel “amber” list seem to have failed since reports show that almost 300,000 people will fly from the U.K. to these countries by this weekend alone. Boris Johnson said yesterday that “it’s very important for people to grasp what an amber-list country is: it is not somewhere where you should be going on holiday, let me be very clear about that”.

And if people do go to an amber-list country – they absolutely have to for some pressing family or urgent business reason – if they have to go to an amber-list country, then please bear in mind that you will have to self-isolate, you’ll have to take tests and do your passenger locator form and all the rest of it, but you also have to self-isolate for 10 days when you get back.

Priti Patel last night told those returning from abroad that they should expect a “knock on the door” from “holiday police” checking that they are isolating, with potential rule breakers being threatened with fines of up to £10,000.

The Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, Gillian Keegan, weighed into the Government’s dissuasion efforts on Wednesday, telling talkRADIO that Brits can not holiday in countries such as France and Spain because they’re on the “amber list”. When pushed on whether there is a law to stop people from travelling for non-“extreme” reasons, she clarified that “there’s not”.

People are taking full advantage of this fact, and the Telegraph reports that up to 270,000 will fly to “amber list” countries by Sunday.

Analysis for the Telegraph shows more than 1,300 flights are scheduled to go to “amber” countries in the five days to Sunday at a rate of up to 54,000 passengers a day, with destinations including holiday resorts in Spain, Greece, Italy and France.

Seven of the 10 biggest U.K. tour operators are exploiting confusion in the Government’s guidance to fly holidaymakers to countries or islands deemed safe for non-essential travel by the Foreign Office despite being on the “amber list”. 

It flies in the face of renewed appeals by Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, on Wednesday for the public not to fly to “amber” destinations other than for “extreme” reasons such as caring for a dying relative…

The Government’s attempt to dampen demand faced a European challenge as E.U. ambassadors on Wednesday backed plans to allow vaccinated non-E.U. holidaymakers to visit the bloc this summer…

The E.U. will decide next week on the countries to include on its “green list”. Destinations will have to meet a threshold of having infection rates below 75 cases per 100,000. Britain is comfortably within that, but there are E.U. concerns about the spread of the Indian variant.

Evidence of the potential demand from Britons was confirmed by Cirium, a global aviation data firm, which revealed the number of scheduled flights and passengers to Italy, Greece and Spain were set to increase by up to 200% in the next three days.

They include a doubling to Spain, from 38 flights on Wednesday to 80 on Saturday carrying up to 16,000 travellers, a trebling to Italy from six to 19, carrying up to 3,400, and France rising from six to 10…

TUI, Britain’s biggest tour operator, is flying hundreds of holidaymakers on some 20 flights this week to amber-listed Corfu, Kos, Rhodes, Cuba, St Lucia, Tenerife and Lanzarote. They are deemed safe for “non-essential” trips by the Foreign Office, meaning holidaymakers can get travel insurance.

The Telegraph report is worth reading in full.

Age-Standardised Mortality Rate Falls To Lowest Level on Record

The ONS announced today that there were 38,899 deaths registered in England in April, which is 15% less than in March, and 6% less than the five-year average. However, as I’ve noted before, the best overall measure of mortality isn’t the number of deaths, or even the death rate, but rather the age-standardised mortality rate.

In April, the age-standardised mortality rate was 12% lower than in March, and a remarkable 12.5% lower than the five-year average. As a matter of fact, it was the lowest on record for that month. (The ONS’s dataset goes back as far as 2001, and given that mortality has been decreasing more-or-less continuously for the past few decades, April’s age-standardised mortality rate was probably the lowest ever.)

This chart from the ONS shows the age-standardised mortality rate for the first four months of the year, each year, going back to 2001:

Although 2021’s figure was higher than the figure for 2019, it was only 0.2% higher than the figure for 2018, and was actually equal to the figure for 2015. Hence – despite higher-than-expected mortality in January and February – the overall level of mortality in the first four months of the year was close to what you’d expect.

If the age-standardised mortality rate remains low for the next two or three months, it will “cancel out” a large share of the excess mortality observed in the second wave. Indeed, the most plausible explanation for the current low level of mortality is that deaths were “brought forward” by the pandemic.

This post has been updated.

Boris Johnson “Thinks the Gloom Has Been Overdone” on Indian Variant

There are reports that there is increasing optimism across Government that step 4 of the roadmap – full reopening on June 21st – will be able to proceed as planned, with Boris Johnson said to be unpersuaded that the data suggests a need for delay. Katy Balls in the Spectator has the inside track.

As things stand, Johnson is unpersuaded that the data suggests there will have to be a delay. Instead, he thinks some of the gloom has been overdone. Suggestions that the chances of all restrictions being lifted next month are “close to nil” have not landed well with ministers. “Anyone who tells you they know what is going to happen doesn’t know,” says one peeved Government figure.

At this week’s cabinet, attendees were given a Covid presentation by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, which suggested that the data had not got significantly worse since Friday. Downing Street hopes that in a week or so they will have a clearer sense of how much of a problem the Indian variant is – most crucially, how transmissible it is. The current understanding in No. 10 is that it’s a little more contagious but not as bad as originally feared. One minister says there is a growing sense that “things are not as bad as they first seemed”.

Crucially, the vaccines appear to work against the variant. As long as that remains the case, any extension of lockdown measures will be a hard sell to Tory MPs. “There is a strong sense of relief among the public that the crisis is over, we can’t go back there,” says a minister. Concerned Tory MPs have been making their opposition to any delay known to the whips. “It would mean we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory,” says one. 

While things ought to be clearer in a week or so once more comprehensive data is in, the more likely scenario for June 21st right now is not a delay but a push to water down what an “end to restrictions” looks like in practice. “Everyone is using the variant to get their favourite political argument over the line – whether it’s keeping social distancing, border controls, or vaccine passports,” says one official. However, what encourages MPs and ministers who wish to see an end to restrictions is that they believe Johnson ultimately wants the same. “We have a Prime Minister who given half a chance would lift restrictions on everything,” notes a minister.

Depressing that we have Government ministers who see an overblown panic about a variant as an opportunity to advance various illiberal causes such as social distancing, border restrictions and vaccine passports. But doesn’t that just sum up the Government response to the whole pandemic – unscrupulous actors ready to exploit fear as an opportunity to advance various illiberal causes?

If Boris thinks the gloom is being overdone about the Indian variant, wait till he sees how well U.S. states that reopened months ago are doing compared to the overcautious and, we now know, entirely reversible timetable he has imposed on poor England. If he really would lift all restrictions on everything “given half a chance”, why doesn’t he take a leaf out of Florida, Texas and numerous other states’ books and do just that? Who is denying him that “chance”?

Here are the latest graphs on test positivity in the Indian variant “hotspots”, showing a notable lack of growth.

Stop Press: SAGE member Professor Andrew Hayward appeared on BBC Breakfast to claim the Indian variant risks pushing Britain into a “third wave” of coronavirus and to call for all travel to be “minimised”. The Telegraph reports:

Prof Andrew Hayward, who researches infectious diseases at University College London, said he was “very concerned” about the Indian variant due to its higher transmissibility.

Asked on BBC Breakfast whether the country was at the start of the third wave, he said “I think so” and called for travel to be “minimised full-stop”.

“I think what we can see is that this strain can circulate very effectively, although it was originally imported through travel to India, it’s spread fairly effectively first of all within households and now more broadly within communities, so I don’t really see why it wouldn’t continue to spread in other parts of the country,” he said. 

“Obviously we’re doing everything we can to contain the spread, but it’s likely that more generalised measures may start to be needed to control it.” 

Since the Government seems to have no intention of imposing new restrictions at the moment, it won’t take long to see whether this latest prophecy of doom comes true.

Six Pubs Have Closed Every Week during Lockdowns

The reopening of indoor hospitality earlier this week came too late for many businesses as data reveals that six pubs have closed every week during Government-imposed lockdowns. Most have either been demolished or converted into homes and offices. The MailOnline has the story.

Figures released today showed 384 pubs have closed permanently during the national and tiered local restrictions over the past 14 months.

The number of locals is down by one per cent from 40,886 to 40,502, according to research by consultants Altus Group…

West Northamptonshire Council granted permission to turn The Romany in Kingsley, Northampton, into 11 flats after its closure during the first lockdown last year.

And The Majors Arms in Widnes, Cheshire, was sold last October, with its new owners requesting permission from Halton Council to turn it into a shop.

The Crobar in Soho, central London, previously said it would be unable to reopen after struggling to pay rent during the pandemic, but is now planning to resume business at a new venue after fundraising over £100,000. 

The study found more pubs were lost in the South East than other parts of the U.K., with 62 demolished or converted for alternative use during the pandemic.

The West Midlands, Wales, North West and East of England each saw more than 40 pubs closed during the same 14-month spell.

Pubs that disappeared have either been demolished or converted into other uses such as homes or offices, said Altus.

Worth reading in full.

Hospitals Are Overcounting Children Admitted for Covid

Almost half of the children in hospital recorded as having needed inpatient treatment for Covid may have actually needed treatment for something else and happened to test positive, a new U.S. study suggests. The MailOnline has the story.

Out of 117 children who tested positive were treated as inpatients in Stanford University’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, 53 were likely not sick enough from the virus itself to need inpatient treatment. 

Children younger than 18 make up only 12.4% of U.S. Covid cases, and less than a fraction of a per cent of the total number of deaths from the virus, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show. 

An estimated one to three per cent of Covid hospitalisations for Covid are among children – but the new Stanford study suggests the real figure may be even lower…

The new study, published Wednesday in the journal Hospital Pediatrics, took a closer look at data on 117 children who were either hospitalized for a Covid-linked syndrome – MIS-C, which occurs after kids are infected with coronavirus – or who tested positive after arriving at the hospital. 

The children were hospitalized between May 10th, 2020 and February 10th, 2021. 

About 40% of those children were completely asymptomatic for Covid. 

Another 28% displayed only symptoms of mild-to-moderate coronavirus infections. 

Nine kids became severely ill from Covid, including three who probably were not hospitalized because of the infection, but became seriously sick with Covid during their stay, their medical charts suggest. 

Only 15 out of the 117 children were determined to be critically ill (about 13%). Fourteen of them were likely brought to hospitals specifically because of their Covid symptoms. 

One child was admitted to the hospital to undergo surgery for a congenital heart problem. They had no symptoms when they arrived at the hospital, but later tested positive and fell critically ill, likely due to the combination of Covid and their heart condition. 

Fourteen children were diagnosed with MIS-C – multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children – which has been linked to Covid. These children may not have gotten severely ill during the acute phase of infection with coronavirus, but it set off a chain of immune responses that brought on the potentially life-threatening inflammation. 

All-in-all, only a little over half of the kids who were logged as hospitalised for Covid were actually sick enough from the virus itself to need inpatient treatment for it. 

The other 45% were likely hospitalised for something else and just happened to test positive for Covid. 

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up