Day: 30 May 2021

Vaccine Safety Update

This is the third of the weekly round-ups of Covid vaccine safety reports and news compiled by a group of medical doctors who are monitoring developments but prefer to remain anonymous in the current climate (find the second one here). By no means is this part of an effort to generate alarm about the vaccines or dissuade anyone from getting inoculated. It should be read in conjunction with Lockdown Sceptics‘ other posts on vaccines, which include both encouraging and not so encouraging developments. At Lockdown Sceptics we report all news about the vaccines whether positive or negative and give no one advice about whether they should or should not take them. Unlike with lockdowns, we are neither pro-vaccine nor anti-vaccine; we see our job as to report the facts, not advocate for or against a particular policy. The vaccine technology is novel and the vaccines have not yet fully completed their trials, which is why they’re in use under temporary and not full market authorisation. This has been done on account of the emergency situation and the trial data was largely encouraging on both efficacy and safety. For a summary of that data, see this preamble to the Government’s page on the Yellow Card reporting system. We publish information and opinion to inform public debate and help readers reach their own conclusions about what is best for them, based on the available data.

  • The U.S. CDC is investigating reports of heart problems following vaccination with the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna), particularly in young adults aged between 18 and 30, according to the Mail. It is estimated that around 1 in 100,000 vaccine recipients suffer myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart muscle – as an adverse event. The Israeli Health Ministry has announced further investigation into the issue while the Pentagon is reportedly monitoring it in the U.S. after 14 cases were reported following military vaccination. A study in the Lancet suggests a possible mechanism by which the virus itself could trigger such a condition.
  • The European Medicines Agency has approved the Pfizer vaccine for children of 12 years and above, the Metro reports. In Israel, 93 Doctors have signed an open letter calling for vaccines not to be offered to children on account of the low risks to them of the disease and the unknown risks of the vaccines. America’s Frontline Doctors have filed for a temporary restraining order against the use of COVID-19 vaccines in children in the Northern District of Alabama. In the U.K., the JCVI has not made a recommendation on the vaccination of children, and it will reportedly be left to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to make a decision in the coming weeks. If true, this seems a very unsatisfactory state of affairs – in the absence of a clear medical and scientific recommendation to authorise the use of a medicine on children, the default position should surely be not to authorise it?
  • A comment piece in the Lancet has raised the issue of the missing consideration of Absolute Risk Reduction (ARR) in the vaccine trials and studies. The authors, including Professor Piero Olliaro of the Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health at the University of Oxford, calculate an ARR of 1.3% for AstraZeneca, 1.2% for Moderna, 1.2% for Janssen and 0.84% for Pfizer.
  • A letter in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry (BMJ) (also reported by the Mail and ITV) highlights the risk of stroke following receipt of the AstraZeneca vaccination, linking it to the newly identified condition of Vaccine-induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT) (blood clots).
  • The U.K. Government has released two reports on the hospitalisation rates of vaccinated people with COVID-19 over the winter and spring. One, from PHE, suggests 57% of patients admitted with Covid over the period had received at least one vaccine dose. The other, from the ISARIC4C consortium, suggested just 7.3% of Covid hospital admissions over the period had received at least one vaccine dose. This large discrepancy has not been acknowledged or explained.
  • The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has received conditional marketing authorisation in the UK. 
  • EudraVigilance – the equivalent of the Yellow Card reporting system in the EU – has logged reports claiming 12,184 people have died and 1,196,190 have suffered injuries following receipt of the Covid vaccines in the EU.
  • Suspected adverse events in the U.K. as reported in the media: Stephanie Dubois (39); Lisa Shaw (44); Kirsty Hext (25).

Summary of Adverse Events UK

According to an updated report published on May 27th (covering the period up to May 19th), the MHRA Yellow Card reporting system has recorded a total of 859,481 events, based on 246,970 reports. The total number of fatalities reported is 1,213.

  • Pfizer (12.7 million first doses, 10.5 million second doses) now has one Yellow Card in 380 doses, 2.9 adverse reactions (i.e., symptoms) per card, one fatal reaction in 61,000 doses. 
  • AstraZeneca (24.2 million first doses, 10.7 million second doses) has one Yellow Card in 190 doses, 3.7 adverse reactions per card, one fatal reaction in 43,000 doses.
  • Moderna (0.3 million first doses) has one Yellow Card in 152 doses, 2.8 adverse reactions per card, one fatal reaction in 75,000 doses.

Note that these rates have dropped slightly from last week.

25 Million Brits Fully Vaccinated Against Covid – and Just Six Deaths Are Recorded on Sunday

The U.K. has passed the milestone of fully vaccinating 25 million adults against Covid, with the figure for first doses nearing 40 million. Also on Sunday, the slight increase in positive Covid tests has been offset (yet again) by the low number of reported deaths (just six).

Despite all this, uncertainty remains about whether the country will unlock on June 21st. Sky News has more.

Another 3,240 coronavirus cases were recorded [on Sunday] and the latest statistics showed 39,259,168 people have had a first dose of a Covid vaccine.

A total of 25,332,851 have had two jabs.

The latest coronavirus R (reproduction) number is estimated to be between 1.0 and 1.1 – up from between 0.9 and 1.1 last week.

This means that, on average, every 10 people infected with Covid will infect between 10 and 11 other people.

The Government is now considering making Covid vaccinations compulsory for NHS workers, while an expert has warned there still remains “an awful lot of uncertainty” over whether England can proceed with its planned relaxation of Covid restrictions on June 21st.

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) Government advisory panel, was asked on LBC if the country was on track to reopen by that date.

He said: “I think at the moment there’s quite a lot of uncertainty around that.

“We are starting to see signs of course that cases are going up, but at the moment we’re still obviously reporting hospital admissions and deaths at very low levels.”

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi says that no final decision will be made (or, at least, announced) on the fourth and final step of the roadmap out of lockdown until June 14th.

The Sky News report is worth reading in full.

Lockdown-Weary Sunworshippers Flock to Britain’s Beaches

Sun-seekers flocked to Britain’s holiday hotspots for a scorching bank holiday weekend, with locals complaining they had to wait about two-hour to get served in pubs. The MailOnline has more.

Day-trippers have piled in to several picturesque seaside resorts across Britain today, with temperatures set to hit around 75F (24C) in parts of the country.

Sun-seekers basked in glorious sunshine and enjoyed clear blue skies on the packed beach on Lyme Regis, punts and kayaks filled the River Cam in Cambridge, and others took a cooling dip in the sea across the country on Blackpool Beach.

Droves of lockdown-weary Brits made the journey to Devon in a bid to enjoy the hot weather ahead of Bank Holiday Monday – which is set to see temperatures rise to a toasty 77F (25C).

Roughly 75,000 visitors are expected today at Brighton, with 50,000 at Bournemouth and 50,000 at Blackpool.

But 11 million daytrippers are clogging roads, RAC data showed, with traffic jams due on coastal routes including the A23 to Brighton, A31 to Dorset, A30 to Cornwall and M55 to Blackpool.

A local who visited The Imperial in Exeter said his family had to wait more than two hours for a round of drinks as the city’s beer gardens saw an influx of revellers to enjoy their time off in the sun.

The angry customer, whose order included an Abbot Ale, pint of Carlsberg shandy and a lime and soda, told Devon Live: “When (we) ordered at 2.55pm, we didn’t get our drinks until two hours later.

“It is absolutely ridiculous I’m sorry to say. It was full, basically the security were excellent, they weren’t letting people into the garden area until there was a table free.”

And Plymouth man was left fuming after “spending almost an hour and a half” in the queue for a KFC Drive-Thru in the city.

William Davies, a former restaurateur, went out with his wife and children to the grub from the popular fast food restaurant on Friday, but spent much of the evening stuck in the queue at KFC St Budeaux.

It comes ahead of a scorching June – tipped to be the hottest on record – as 88F (33C) ‘European heat pulses’ bake the country.

Forecasters at the Met Office warned people to slap on plenty of sun cream as UV light levels will be high or very high.

Becky Mitchell, a meteorologist from the Met Office, said: “We could potentially get to the hottest day of the year but definitely by tomorrow.”

Worth reading in full.

Homelessness More Than Tripled in Bristol during Lockdowns

Homelessness rates in cities like Bristol have increased significantly over the past year of lockdowns, including the number of families with children needing temporary accommodation, with figures surging after each lockdown. Reasons such as domestic abuse have been cited for causing this surge. BBC News has the story on homelessness in Bristol.

Paul Sylvester described the 330% increase during the past year as “absolutely massive”.

He was speaking during a multi-agency housing group meeting on the impact of Covid on homelessness in the city.

Families with children in temporary accommodation went up by 11%, but the number of rough sleepers fell.

Mr Sylvester, Head of Housing Options at Bristol City Council, said homelessness surged after each lockdown, with the biggest rise after the third, as coronavirus took its toll on families and relationships.

The number of people made homeless because they were told to leave by family or friends doubled during the past 12 months, he said. 

Relationship breakdown and domestic abuse were also factors, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“The increase in singles has been absolutely massive, up by 330%, compared to before Covid,” he said.

Mr Sylvester said the “Everyone In” campaign in the first lockdown saw nearly 300 people given beds in hotels and youth hostels.

He said emergency funding had helped bring the number of rough sleepers in Bristol to an historic low of 20 in January 2020 but this had since risen to around the “mid 40s”, compared with around 130 in 2019.

Worth reading in full.

A report from the Observer in January suggests that the rise of homelessness is not isolated to Bristol.

More than 70,000 households have been made homeless since the start of the pandemic, with tens of thousands more threatened with homelessness, despite Government pledges to protect tenants and prevent evictions, according to figures compiled by the Observer

But despite the Government banning evictions for most of the last 10 months, the Observer’s figures show that 207,543 households approached their local council for help with homelessness or the threat of homelessness between the start of April and the end of November 2020.

Of these, 50,561 were “owed the prevention duty”, meaning they were judged to be threatened with homelessness, while 70,309 were “owed the relief duty”, meaning they were already homeless, which is defined more broadly than rough sleeping.

Also worth reading in full.

Letter in the Telegraph Says Modellers Are Partly to Blame for Care Home Fiasco

There was a good letter in the Telegraph yesterday, pointing out that SAGE and its modellers need to accept some of the blame for the care home fiasco. After all, if the Government and the NHS hadn’t been persuaded by their apocalyptic models that hospitals would be overwhelmed if they didn’t clear out elderly, care home residents, they wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to get rid of them.

SIR – Matt Hancock, the NHS and the Prime Minister have all been blamed by Dominic Cummings for the appalling care-home Covid deaths at the start of the pandemic, but I feel none of these are the real culprits.

At the time, pandemic data modellers were forecasting huge numbers likely to need hospitalisation. So the Government, using the Armed Services, built Nightingale emergency hospitals in double-quick time.

The NHS, spooked by alarmist modellers, cleared the hospitals of all the non-Covid patients they clinically could, anticipating a deluge of Covid patients. Unfortunately, no one knew of non-symptomatic carriers, and the care homes were infected, with devastating results.

The hospital deluge predicted by modellers didn’t materialise, nor anywhere near it. The Nightingale hospitals were hardly used.

So, in apportioning blame for the horrendous care-home deaths, excitable modellers and their statistics, based on unrealistic assumptions, must be the primary culprits. It was a case of “following the science” that led policy-makers astray.

Steve Male
Highampton, Devon

More Than Half of People in Their 30s Have Been Vaccinated in Just Two Weeks

With the vaccination of those most vulnerable to Covid achieved some time ago, Britain’s vaccine roll-out has encompassed younger and younger age groups. Most recently, more than half of people in their 30s have been vaccinated in just two weeks, and polling suggests that the overall uptake will be close to 90% in this age group (as well as in all others). Yet Government advisers continue to insist that the June 21st date for unlocking is “too early”. The MailOnline has the story.

NHS England said that, since it began opening up the vaccine roll-out to this age group on May 13th, some 53% of those aged 30 to 39 have been given at least one dose.

People aged 30 to 31 were the most recent group to be invited for their jab – from Wednesday – with more than five million appointments made through the national booking service within 72 hours.

It means the Government continues to be on track to hit the deadline of offering a vaccine to every adult by the end of July.

The continued success of the rollout is also one of the Government’s four tests to allow a further easing of restrictions, with the final one in just over three weeks time.

But Linda Bauld, Professor of Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, has said June 21st is “too early” to lift coronavirus restrictions in England.

She told Sky News: “I really think that it is too early to be charging ahead. I would like to see several more weeks’ data.”

She said the planned date is “very ambitious”, adding: “June 21st is very soon and I think to avoid more preventable deaths… we really need to be cautious at the current time.”

It comes as a scientific adviser warned confusion over the Government’s handling of Covid restrictions was undermining efforts to control the virus.

Professor Stephen Reicher, a psychologist on the SAGE sub-committee advising ministers on behavioural science, said the Government was in a “pickle” because it appeared to have abandoned the “data not dates” principle.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Sun on Sunday reports that half of all U.K. adults will have received both doses of a Covid vaccine by the end of the week.

Pub Landlords Urge Government to End Furlough Because It Is Destroying Work Ethic

Landlords and restaurant owners have called on the Government to end the furlough scheme to help offset a recruitment crisis, saying that those on furlough would rather stay at home than come out and work. There are 188,000 job vacancies in hospitality where more than 250,000 workers remain on furlough. The Sun on Sunday has the story.

[Some owners] are so short-staffed, some have been offering £1,000 joining-up bonuses to coax back uncertain workers. 

They blame the £63 billion Government pay scheme, as would-be recruits prefer to stay home and take state cash.

The Sun on Sunday can reveal U.K.-wide there are 700,000 job vacancies, including 188,000 in hospitality alone where more than 250,000 remain on furlough.

The scheme does not stop until the end of September, amid uncertainty over the economy. 

But experts fear some have now lost the will to work. Professor Len Shackleton, from the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Furlough has been a great success but has gone on for far too long.

“We should wind it up and get back to reality. We should not be holding back new businesses which need workers in a vain attempt to keep old businesses alive.”

Furlough began in March last year to stop firms laying off staff, or collapsing, during lockdown. 

Some  11.5 million workers have been furloughed, with 4.2 million still on the handout at the end of March this year. It has helped keep unemployment at around five%.

A Treasury spokesman said: “Furlough means two million fewer people will have lost their jobs.  

“We went long with furlough to avoid a cliff edge and ensure as many jobs as possible are protected.”

But it is down to employers to stop the payouts, by ceasing to apply for the state to pay 80% of a worker’s wages. 

Meanwhile, trade body U.K. Hospitality says 15% of its workers, or around 270,000, are reluctant to come off furlough, over fears of another lockdown.

U.K. Hospitality’s Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said: “Furlough is still essential, helping to make sure jobs are protected over the summer.

“But it could be tightened up to ensure it is not masking problems in our economy and protecting jobs that are no longer there.

“Lots of people are trying to recruit and in some parts of the country there are vacancies that they cannot fill.” 

Worth reading in full.

New York Times Article Wrongly Claims Britain’s Second Wave Was More Deadly Than the First

In a recent article published in the New York Times, the science writer Zeynep Tufekci argues that the B.1.617.2 “Indian” variant appears to be more transmissible than even the B.1.1.7 “Kent” variant, and could therefore be “catastrophic” for parts of the world with low rates of vaccination. 

As a consequence, she argues, vaccine supplies should be “diverted now to where the crisis is the worst, if necessary away from the wealthy countries that have purchased most of the supply.”

While asking rich countries to share their vaccine supplies with poorer countries surely makes sense, one of the points Tufekci makes in support of her argument is based in error. Linking to Our World in Data’s chart of UK daily deaths, she writes:

Britain had more daily Covid-related deaths during the surge involving B.1.1.7 than in the first wave, when there was less understanding of how to treat the disease and far fewer therapeutics that later helped cut mortality rates. Even after the vaccination campaign began, B.1.1.7 kept spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated.

In other words, she’s saying that the higher mortality rate observed in Britain’s second wave, following the emergence of the “Kent” variant last November, constitutes evidence that new variants can pose serious and unforeseen challenges to national healthcare systems. 

However, it simply isn’t true that there were more COVID-related deaths “during the surge involving B.1.1.7”. As I’ve noted before, the chart showing deaths within 28 days of a positive test (to which Tufekci links) gives a very misleading impression of the relative severity of the first and second waves. 

The correct chart to use is the one the ONS published on 19 March, which plots age-adjusted excess mortality up to 12 February:

The peak weekly mortality in the first wave was 101% higher than the five-year average. Yet in the second wave, it was only 42% higher.

What’s more, cumulative excess mortality was 483% in the first wave, but only 328% in the second wave. Of course, the latter figure is an underestimate because the series stops in mid-February. However, extending the series forward wouldn’t make that much difference. Indeed, there were nine consecutive weeks of negative excess mortality in March, April and May.

Countries with low rates of vaccination should certainly remain vigilant with respect to new variants, but decisions need to be based on the best available data – and that means age-adjusted excess mortality wherever possible.

News Round-Up