Day: 2 July 2021

Councils in Virus “Hotspots” Ignoring National Guidelines on Not Giving Children Covid Vaccines

Councils in variant “hotspots” have begun vaccinating children against Covid ahead of an official decision on the matter from the Government, with one inviting thousands of 16 and 17 year-olds to “drop into one of our vaccine clinics” without the need of an appointment. It is not clear whether these clinics only vaccinate children whose parents have given their consent. The Telegraph has the story.

On Friday, Rochdale Borough Council invited “anyone aged 16 and over” to have a first dose of the Pfizer jab without the need for an appointment. Another drive-through clinic for teenagers is due to take place in the town on Saturday.

On Friday night, a spokesman for the council and local NHS clinical commissioning group said a “multi-agency decision” had been taken to expand the criteria to 16 and 17 year-olds because Rochdale was “again in a desperate race to stay ahead of the virus”.

The spokesman said: “Our borough is one of the areas of the country worst affected by coronavirus and our infection rate is now approaching that seen in Bolton a few weeks ago. Among our younger age groups, the rate is almost 1,000 cases per 100,000 people.

“Many 16 and 17 year-olds with underlying health conditions have already been vaccinated but many other younger adults who are at risk for different reasons are falling outside national protocols.

“On that basis, and to avoid any vaccine wastage, a multi-agency decision was taken with clinical leads to temporarily expand the qualifying criteria for at-risk 16 and 17-year-olds for our clinics this weekend, but following discussions we have now revised our plans.”

GPs in west London and other parts of the country have also given the vaccine to healthy under-18s in recent weeks, it is understood.

A senior NHS source said on Friday that action would be taken against GPs and local authorities who “go rogue” by ignoring national guidelines. …

Yet in a leaflet seen by the Telegraph, Rochdale Borough Council invited thousands of under-18s to come forward for their first Pfizer jab. It said: “If you’re aged 16 or over and have not got an existing appointment, please drop into one of the extra vaccine clinics.”

In an accompanying video posted online, Dr Mo Jiva, the Chief Executive Officer of the Rochdale and Bury Local Medical Committee, invited anyone aged 16 or above to “come down and receive their first or second vaccine” at a drive-through clinic in a gym car park. “We hope to see you tomorrow,” Dr Jiva said. …

A source at Rochdale Borough Council said the move to vaccinate under-18s was a “clinical decision”.

Worth reading in full.

Around One in Seven Older British Teenagers Hesitant Over Getting Covid Vaccine, According to New Research

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Covid vaccine hesitancy shows that the hesitancy rate in adults has dropped from nine per cent in February to just four per cent in June. Around one in seven older teenagers, whose views on the vaccine have been studied by the ONS for the first time, have also been found to be sceptical of Covid vaccination.

The Evening Standard has more.

Some 14% of 16-17 year-olds reported vaccine hesitancy when surveyed by the ONS between May and June.

The U.K.’s vaccination programme is currently only open to adults aged 18 and over, and some children in exceptional circumstances, with experts divided on whether children should be jabbed.

The ONS also found that nine per cent of 18-21 year-olds and 10% of 22-25 year-olds reported hesitancy.

Vaccine hesitancy is defined as people who have refused a vaccine, say they would be unlikely to get a vaccine when offered, and those who responded “neither likely nor unlikely”, “don’t know” or “prefer not to say” when asked.

The survey was carried out between May 26th and June 20th and covered 16,180 participants aged 16 and over.

Across all people surveyed, the ONS found the vast majority (96%) reported positive sentiment towards a Covid vaccine, while four per cent reported vaccine hesitancy.

There continue to be sharp differences in rates of hesitancy among different ethnic and religious groups, however.

Some 18% of black or black British adults reported vaccine hesitancy, compared with 11% for adults of mixed background, four per cent for white adults and three per cent for Asian or Asian British adults.

Around one in seven adults (15%) identifying as Muslim showed hesitancy, compared with nine per cent of people identifying as Hindu and three per cent of the Christian group.

Adults in the most deprived parts of England were more likely to report hesitancy than those living in the least deprived areas (eight per cent and three per cent respectively).

If it was just down to parents, most children would “definitely” or “probably” be vaccinated against Covid when offered, according to other research by the ONS.

Worth reading in full.

Australia Agrees Plan to Abandon Zero Covid Strategy

As infections surge during winter and with half the country now under restrictions in the ‘Zero Covid’ state, the national Government in Australia has finally accepted that trying to keep Covid out forever is no way to run a country. The cabinet has agreed plans to end restrictions and reopen borders as the country shifts to a vaccine strategy that treats Covid “like the flu”. ABC reports.

National Cabinet has agreed to a four-stage plan that would see Australia transform into a vaccinated nation that manages COVID-19 with few restrictions.

The goal, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, is for Australia to begin treating COVID-19 “like the flu”.

It would mean governments shift from focusing on case numbers to focusing on rates of hospitalisation and death as Australians learn to live with low rates of mild illness in the community.

To get to a point beyond lockdowns and border closures, Australians will need to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated, but leaders are yet to agree how many jabs it will take to open up.

However, as the Swiss Doctor notes, the country’s vaccine programme has not exactly got off to a good start.

Australia still has a very low, single-digit vaccination rate; moreover, the country currently relies on AstraZeneca, which achieves only a 60% protection rate against symptomatic infection with the ‘Indian variant’, and which will be phased out due to several fatal and severe reactions in young adults. Thus, Australia is likely to face a fierce uphill battle against the coronavirus during the ongoing winter season

The media hysteria is in full swing down under, with the Australian Associated Press telling readers that the Delta variant is “twice as contagious as the original virus and can be spread through fleeting contact that lasts just seconds”. Oh dear, where’s a fact checker when you need one? Glad not to be in Australia right now.

Asda Moves Towards “Hybrid Working” for Office Staff

Asda has announced that its 4,000 head office staff will be allowed to work where they like in the near future, becoming the latest business giant to move away from office-based work amid suggestions that “hybrid working”, where staff work from home some of the time, could become the norm post-lockdown. BBC News has the story.

The supermarket group said staff at Asda House in Leeds and George House in Leicester can choose where they work.

Around 4,000 staff work at both offices, with the majority based in Leeds.

England is set to lift final Covid measures on July 19th and many businesses have indicated they will continue to allow flexible working.

However, not all companies plan to embrace a hybrid approach. Goldman Sachs International has said it wants people to come back into the office once restrictions have ended.

Asda said its new approach “will encourage colleagues to select the best location to do their job”, including home, head office or even a store or depot.

However, the company said the model would not work for all employees, such as those who need to have close contact with colleagues, like, for example, people who work in training.

But it said staff also “have the flexibility to work from home when it is more productive to do so, such as tasks that involve planning or research”. 

Asda’s plan is similar to one adopted by Nationwide, which will allow the building society’s 13,000 office employees to “work anywhere”. 

Nationwide is closing three offices in Swindon and the 3,000 staff based at those sites can either move to the nearby headquarters, work from home or mix the two. Some employees may be able to work from a local High Street branch if they prefer, instead of travelling to an office.

The “hybrid working” approach is likely favoured because of its cost-cutting benefits. However, some are concerned that working from home reduces levels of productivity.

The BBC News report is worth reading in full.

New York Times Article Lays Out Circumstantial Evidence for Lab Leak Theory

Since the publication on May 14th of the letter in Science calling for a new investigation into the origins of COVID-19, the lab leak theory has officially gone mainstream. Numerous articles testifying to its plausibility have been published, and President Biden ordered intelligence agencies to “redouble” their efforts to examine the virus’s origin.

One of the best articles that’s been published in recent weeks is a piece by Zeynep Tufekci in the New York Times. Although she doesn’t come down in favour of one theory or the other (lab leak versus natural origin), she does lay out much of the circumstantial evidence for a lab leak. And it’s not in short supply.

To begin with, you have the location of the first outbreak in Wuhan, China – home to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (as well as the Wuhan C.D.C.). It would be a remarkable coincidence, many have observed, if the pandemic just happened to get started in a city that hosts one of the world’s major coronavirus research labs.  

Some have countered that labs tend to be built where the viruses are. However, this simply isn’t true in the case of the Wuhan Institute, as Tufekci points out. The lab has “been where it is since 1956… It was upgraded and began to focus on coronavirus research only after SARS.” Even Dr. Shi (the “Batwoman”) has said she “never expected this kind of thing to happen in Wuhan”.

Next, you have reports about the rather lax safety standards inside the Wuhan Institute. In 2016, for example, scientists ran experiments on a coronavirus capable of infecting human cells in a BSL-2 lab – a biosafety level that “has been compared with that of a dentist’s office”. And in 2017, a Chinese state-TV story about Dr. Shi’s research “showed researchers handling bats or bat feces with their bare hands”.

Then there is the fact that Dr. Shi, her colleagues and the Wuhan Institute, not to mention the Chinese authorities, have given misleading or incomplete accounts of key events, or have simply withheld information. Aside from the location’s first major outbreak, this is perhaps the strongest piece of evidence for a lab leak. If the virus’s origin is zoonotic, why wouldn’t you let other scientists look over your files?

Millions of Brits Excluded from New E.U. Vaccine Passport Scheme

The European Union’s new vaccine passport scheme – the “E.U. digital Covid Certificate” – has been launched following recent trials, and it’s not just the unvaccinated who don’t qualify. Up to five million vaccinated Brits, and many others across the world, could be denied European holidays because their vaccines are not recognised by the scheme. The Telegraph has the story.

Millions of vaccines administered here do not qualify for the European Union’s vaccine passport scheme, because the shots were manufactured in India and are not yet authorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The hitch could leave thousands of Britons turned away at E.U. border crossings when the batch numbers on their vaccines are checked digitally.

The E.U. Digital Covid Certificate… is designed to allow Covid-secure travel across the continent but does not recognise a version of the AstraZeneca vaccine called Covishield, produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), because it is yet to receive approval in Europe.

Up to five million doses of this version of the vaccine have been administered in the U.K. and are identifiable by the vaccine batch numbers (4120Z001, 4120Z002, 4120Z003) included on recipients’ vaccine cards and in the Covid travel pass available via the NHS app.

The E.U. ruling has already sparked outrage in Asia and Africa, where the Indian manufactured shot – which forms the backbone of the Covax distribution scheme – has been widely used. Now, some British holidaymakers may find themselves similarly excluded.

The Telegraph has traced three Britons affected, none of whom were told in advance they were to receive the Indian version of the AstraZeneca vaccine. All received their shots of the SII vaccine in March. …

The E.U. Digital Covid Certificate allows those who are fully vaccinated, recently tested or recovered from Covid to move across borders within the E.U. without having to quarantine or undergo extra coronavirus tests upon arrival.

But only vaccines approved by the EMA are included, though individual member states are free to accept other vaccines if they choose.

The EMA approved vaccines are Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and the version of the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in the U.K. or Europe, which is sold under the brand name Vaxzevria. …

The E.U. vaccine passport will soon integrate with the Covid travel pass on the NHS app. By scanning a QR code, the E.U. system pulls up information including the traveller’s name, date of birth and vaccine details, including batch numbers.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Professor Adam Finn from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation says this is merely an “administrative hurdle” that needs to be “straightened out”. He was quoted by Sky News in its coverage of the story:

We’re in the early days of this new world of needed vaccine passports and there are lots of aspects of this that are still being sorted out for the first time.

But it’s clearly, ultimately not in anyone’s interest, including the E.U., to create hurdles that don’t need to be there. …

I would anticipate that this will get straightened out in due course.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

NERVTAG Member: Stop Publishing Daily Death Data, Ditch Test and Trace, End Self-Isolation, Don’t Vaccinate Kids

Professor Robert Dingwall, consistently the most sensible of the Government’s scientific advisors throughout the pandemic, gave a belter of an interview to Sarah Montague on the World at One earlier. The gist of it is in the headline, but a very kind reader – Stuart Robertson – has transcribed the entire interview for us which we’re republishing below.

SARAH MONTAGUE: Well, Robert Dingwall is Professor of Sociology at Nottingham Trent University. He sits on a number of committees advising the Government on their pandemic response.

ROBERT DINGWALL: What we’re in the process of doing is managing the transition to understanding that Covid as an endemic, respiratory infection is really just like all the other 30 or so respiratory infections that humans have coexisted with forever, and that we shouldn’t be doing anything exceptional in relation to it in September, 2021, that we would not have been doing in September 2019. And that of course means taking on a lot of vested interests, it involves defusing the levels of anxiety and fear that had been generated in the population over the last 15 months or so. And that’s not, neither of those, is a straightforward task.

SM: Okay, so you have said we should stop publishing the daily numbers of cases, hospitalisations, deaths.

RD: Well the daily numbers are increasingly, increasingly meaningless. When we’re dealing with a mild respiratory infection. What is the point of knowing how much of it is there, there is out there. There is some value maybe in in tracking hospitalisations at the moment, but we’re not tracking seriously desperately ill people in the way that we were in January, they’re not progressing through to intensive care in the sorts of numbers that we saw in the spring.

SM: So is Covid now a mild respiratory infection?

RD: In a largely vaccinated population, and that’s a very important qualification. Covid is now really part of the 30 or so respiratory viruses that humans have coexisted with since time immemorial.

SM: In a largely vaccinated population, children, for example, aren’t vaccinated, I mean you have said, given the low risk of Covid for most teenagers, it’s not immoral to think that there may be better protected by natural immunity generated through infection, rather than by asking them to take the possible risk of a vaccine.

RD: Well, indeed I mean there are risks from the infection, there are risks from the vaccine, and the challenges to decide how to weigh those in the balance.

SM: In terms of the way we should be adjusting our lives, if we’re not to treat this any different than for example flu, should people stop being signed up to an app that might ping and tell them to isolate.

RD: Well, it’s very hard to see what are the benefits of that is, again, if the most vulnerable people in the population have had the opportunity to be vaccinated. And if those who are not vaccinated are confined predominantly to groups where the infection is, is a very low risk. What are we achieving by contact tracing, by isolation, by these various associated measures? Why is it relevant to me to know that somebody in my network has been infected, when I have been vaccinated?

SM: So is it time to lift all the restrictions, stop test and trace, stop bubbles in school, and of course, telling people to isolate in pubs and hospitality venues.

RD: Well I think we have to ask very hard questions about what these are now achieving, but we also need to recognise that there are significant commercial interests in prolonging things like test and trace, but from the point of view of public policy, we have to ask, well, we have never thought it was important to do differential diagnosis of schoolchildren with respiratory infections, if they’re not well enough to go to school, they don’t go to school, that’s the sort of equilibrium we need to be moving toward when the school year restarts in the autumn.

SM: Professor Robert Dingwall there.