Day: 9 July 2021

Fiji Government Announces “No Jab, No Job” Policy

In Fiji, you might not be paid to get vaccinated against Covid, but you are likely to lose your source of income if you don’t. The Fijian Government has warned all workers that they won’t be able to work if they don’t get ‘jabbed’. The Guardian has the story.

The Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, said in a televised address on Thursday night that employers and employees in the private sector should receive at least one dose of vaccine by August 1st.

“It does not matter if you are the CEO of a company, a sole trader or a salaried employee, you must be vaccinated to continue working or else that business will risk being shut down. No jabs, no job – that is what the science tells us is safest and that is now the policy of Government and enforced through law,” he said.

Civil servants will be directed to take leave if they do not get a first jab before August 15th, and they are expected to be fully vaccinated by November 1st or face dismissal.

The ramping up of the vaccination campaign also includes spot fines ranging from $20 to $4,000 for breaching any of more than 20 offences outlined in public health regulations.

Bainimarama said: “The good news is that the coronavirus vaccines are working and we are deploying them quickly. The AstraZeneca vaccine which we are administering in Fiji does very well. It has been shown to offer 92% protection against hospitalisation from the Delta variant of Covid-19 present in the country.

“With other, potentially deadlier variants spreading around the world, including the highly contagious Lambda variant next door in Australia, we cannot afford to waste time getting vaccinated and getting back the lives and livelihoods we know and love. These simple measures slow the spread and prevent more cases of severe disease and death.” …

The Fiji Trades Union Congress previously encouraged all workers to be vaccinated but maintained that the law must protect anyone exercising their right not to get the jabs.

Worth reading in full.

Reports of Reinfection With the Delta Variant are Greatly Exaggerated

There are reports today that the Delta variant is much more likely to reinfect people than the Alpha variant. The Telegraph has the story.

People who have previously caught Covid are now more likely to be reinfected because of the delta variant, a study has found.

Laboratory analysis revealed that the mutation that originated in India is four times more able to overcome protective antibodies from a previous infection compared to the U.K.’s alpha variant.

The study also found that a single dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines provided just 10% protection against the delta variant.

The variant was already thought to be up to 60% more infectious than the version which swept the U.K. last winter.

The findings, published in the journal Nature, help explain why the virus is spreading so quickly, particularly among younger adults, fewer of whom are double-vaccinated.

It’s important to be aware that this is just a set of laboratory tests on one virus sample. It involves no examination of real world reinfection rates.

Furthermore, it only tests antibodies, not T cells, so is not giving a full picture of the immune system’s response. As the authors admit, one limitation of the study is “the lack of characterisation of cellular immunity, which may be more cross-reactive than the humoral response”.

The claim that a single dose of the vaccines only gives 10% protection against infection with the Delta variant is also not based on any measurement of real world infection rates but on how many of the antibody blood samples “neutralised” the virus in the virus sample. While it may be true that one dose of the vaccines gives limited protection against the Delta variant, this is not the way to quantify it.

The study argues its findings suggest the need to vaccinate those previously infected to boost their immunity: “These results strongly suggest that vaccination of previously infected individuals will be most likely protective against a large array of circulating viral strains, including variant Delta.”

However, without studies on cellular immunity and real world reinfection rates such a conclusion would be very premature.

Real world data suggests the threat is overblown. Public Health England today reports on the latest reinfection data from the SIREN study of healthcare workers, stating that “reinfections remain at very low numbers in individuals previously either PCR positive or seropositive”. There have been just 16 potential reinfections between April and June 27th in the 44,546 people in the cohort, of which over 9,800 have confirmed previous infections. While 95% of the group are fully vaccinated, only one of the 16 possible reinfections was in the 5% who are unvaccinated. This strongly suggests the real world risk of reinfection, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, is very small.

Countries Are Using Money and Beer to Incentivise Covid Vaccination

In light of the persistent vaccine hesitancy among some people, governments around the world are considering a range of incentives to induce people go get jabbed (beyond, that is, preventing the unvaccinated from living a normal life).

An Australian pub has received backing from Prime Minister Scott Morrison to give vaccinated punters free pints, despite the Therapeutic Goods Administration previously turning these plans down due to rules about offering alcohol as an incentive to receive medicines. “It’s a sensible rule,” said Morrison. “But in these circumstances, the national interest is to get vaccinated.”

Free beer has also been suggested as an incentive for vaccination in America, where President Joe Biden said last month: “That’s right, get a shot, have a beer. Free beer for everyone 21 years or over to celebrate the independence from the virus.”

This, however, is all child’s play compared to the latest scheme being considered in Germany. Some of the country’s economists have urged the Government to give those who are unsure about being vaccinated €300 (£258) cash if they get ‘jabbed’! The Times has the story.

Officials say the effort is beginning to flag in many parts of the country because of falling demand. This has led to concerns that Germany could struggle to reach herd immunity, which is estimated to require vaccinating about 80% of people. That number is disputed and has risen with the dawn of more transmissible strains.

The scale of the problem was highlighted yesterday by a poll published in Die Welt, which found that 12% of Germans had no intention of being immunised and 18% had yet to make an appointment.

Opinions differ on how to win them around. Some politicians have suggested offering cinema, museum or swimming pool tickets, or setting up drop-in vaccination stands in football stadiums and shopping centres. The Health Ministry has held out the prospect of abolishing swathes of pandemic restrictions once enough people have been jabbed.

However, a number of economists have proposed a much more straightforward incentive: hard cash. “With a cash reward, people can immediately see the positive impact on their finances and are free to use the money according to their own preferences,” Jan Schnellenbach, Professor of Economics at the Brandenburg University of Technology, said. …

Nora Szech, an Economist at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, has calculated that a €500 bonus would raise the proportion of the population willing to be vaccinated to 90%.

Schnellenbach believes that €200 or €300 would be enough. “There are pointers in the academic literature, from laboratory and field experiments, that show you can achieve really quite big effects on people’s behaviour with this kind of sum,” he said.

Worth reading in full.

Just 25 Under-18s Died From Covid in England Up Until February, New Data Shows – Figures Much Higher for Suicide and Trauma

As the Government assesses the pros and cons of vaccinating children, new data has revealed that just 25 under-18s in England died from the virus between March 2020 and February 2021. This equates to an absolute risk of one in 481,000. In the same period, 124 children died from suicide and 268 died from trauma. The researchers conclude that lockdown “may prove a greater risk than… SARS-CoV-2 itself”. The MailOnline has the story.

Young people with pre-existing medical conditions, like heart disease and cancer, and severe disability, which can include cerebral palsy and autism, have a higher chance of becoming seriously ill from the virus.

But the scientists – from three top British universities – said this risk is no higher than the risk from flu.

Teenagers, black and obese children were also at higher risk from dying with Covid but these numbers were still very low, they found. 

Researchers said their findings – which were published in three separate papers today – will help inform vaccine and shielding policy for under-18s.

They will submit the studies to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the Department for Health and the World Health Organisation. …

The studies were led by researchers at University College London, the University of York and the University of Liverpool.

One of the studies is the first to determine the number of children who died from Covid rather than with the virus. It concluded that the virus killed 25 children in England. 

The coronavirus contributed to 0.8% of the 3,105 deaths in children from all causes in the first year of the pandemic. 

During the same period, 124 children died from suicide, while 268 died from trauma, showing that Covid “is rarely fatal” in children, the researchers said.

They found the under-18s who died were more likely to be teenagers than younger children, showing that the risk from the virus increases with age.

Higher proportions of Asian and black children died from the virus but these deaths were “still extremely rare”, they said. 

More than 75% of the children who died had chronic conditions, while two-thirds had more than one underlying condition and 60% had life-limiting conditions.

Six of the children who died were not recorded as having an underlying health problem, but the scientists said they may have had undiagnosed illnesses. 

The paper states that the “extremely low” risk of death means removing children from their normal activities like school and social events “may prove a greater risk than that of SARS-CoV-2 itself”. 

A second study found that 251 young people in England were admitted to intensive care with Covid from March 2020 to February this year, which equates to around a one in 50,000 risk.

Of these patients, 91% had one or more underlying health conditions. 

They also found one in 2,000 were admitted to hospital with Covid, equating to almost 6,000 children. …

A third study, which was led by Dr Rachel Harwood at the University of Liverpool, supported the findings of the other papers.

The researchers found that of the children admitted to hospital with Covid, those at the highest risk of severe illness or death are teenagers, have heart or brain conditions, two or more underlying condition, or are obese.

Worth reading in full.

Children As Young as Five Face Mandatory PCR Tests When Travel Rules Change

We have learnt over the past year that no easing of lockdown rules comes without at least a few catches. The relaxing of travel quarantine rules for those who are fully vaccinated is no exception. Families that travel to “Amber List” countries may not have to self-isolate upon their return to the U.K. from July 19th, but they will have to force their children – aged between five and 18 – to undergo PCR testing, much to the anger of many parents. The Telegraph has the story.

Parents and academics claimed it was unnecessary and potentially harmful to test such young children, while tourism chiefs warned the extra costs for holidays could price many families out of foreign travel.

The Transport Secretary announced that all children aged five to 18 will have to undergo PCR tests when they return from Amber Countries with their parents or individually. Only those aged four or under will not have to be tested.

The tests are required as part of the Government’s new travel regime for double-jabbed adults and all children to be able to travel to Amber countries from July 19th without having to quarantine on their return to the U.K.

Children aged over 11 and all vaccinated adults will have to take pre-departure tests and a PCR test on or before day two after their arrival back in the U.K.

Those aged five to 11 have to take just the PCR test on arrival. For a family of four, it could add £400 to the cost of a holiday.

Most other countries in Europe exempt children aged under 12 but Mr Shapps said the PCR tests were necessary to enable the Government to track and prevent variants being imported through genome sequencing the samples.

Molly Kingsley, Co-Founder of UsforThem, a parents’ campaign group, said Britain had never tested healthy adults “let alone five year-olds for asymptomatic illnesses”.

“It is very unclear why we would be doing this now at a time when we know the vaccines have broken the link between infections and hospitalisations,” she said. 

“Many parents would feel uneasy about normalising testing for children as young as this. It sends a very negative message to our children that they are disease vectors.

“Any holiday with a family is expensive enough as it is. I would not put a five or eight year-old through this to go away.”

Professor Allyson Pollock, Director of the Newcastle University Centre for Excellence in Regulatory Science, said that with the link between infection, hospitalisation and deaths “hugely weakened”, testing children was illogical.

“We really should be asking: what is the prevalence of infection and how good is the natural immunity in the country they are returning to? What evidence is there that these tests will reduce transmission?” she said.

“I don’t understand the logic of it or what has informed it. Where are the evaluations and science to support this. They are making it up as they go along. This is the mess you get into when you introduce vaccine passports and Covid tests.

“You either make a decision that you don’t want people to travel to countries with high prevalence or coming back into them, or you simply say we have got pretty good immunity established in the country.”

The aviation industry welcomed the opening of Amber countries to vaccinated Britons as a “step in the right direction,” but urged the Government to ditch PCR tests for the fully jabbed.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

New Zealand Hospitals Flooded with Children Due to Immune Systems Weakened by Lockdown, Doctors Say

New Zealand and Australia are currently seeing a large number of children in hospital with respiratory illness, which doctors are blaming on the lockdowns for keeping them away from bugs. The Guardian has the story.

Wellington has 46 children currently hospitalised for respiratory illnesses including respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. A number are infants, and many are on oxygen. Other hospitals are also experiencing a rise in cases that are straining their resources – with some delaying surgeries or converting playrooms into clinical space.

RSV is a common respiratory illness. In adults, it generally only produces very mild symptoms – but it can make young children extremely ill, or even be fatal. The size and seriousness of New Zealand’s outbreak is likely being fed by what some paediatric doctors have called an “immunity debt” – where people don’t develop immunity to other viruses suppressed by Covid lockdowns, causing cases to explode down the line. …

The “immunity debt” phenomenon occurs because measures like lockdowns, hand-washing, social distancing and masks are not only effective at controlling COVID-19. They also suppress the spread of other illnesses that transmit in a similar way, including the flu, common cold, and lesser-known respiratory illnesses like RSA. In New Zealand, lockdowns last winter led to a 99.9% reduction in flu cases and a 98% reduction in RSV  and near-eliminated the spike of excess deaths New Zealand usually experiences during winter.

Keeping children away from bugs means they don’t develop immunity and results in an “immunity debt” that must be paid sooner or later, a group of doctors explains.