Day: 3 September 2021

Rotherham School Defying Government With Strict Covid Rules

Children at the Wales high school in Rotherham can only dream of returning to normal school life, with mask-wearing outside of the classroom and a ban on different year groups mixing continuing into the future. “We’ve got to remember that Covid is still here,” says Headteacher Pepe Di’Iasio. The Guardian has the story.

Rotherham… is currently one of the most infected areas in England and Di’Iasio is worried that the cases will increase with the beginning of the academic year, as university students return to Sheffield. “There is going to be an influx of people to the area that has one of the highest rates in South Yorkshire,” he said. “And so we wanted to establish some routines that can be maintained for the next three or four weeks. If things go well, we will scale those routines back rather than bring new routines in.”

Di’Iasio said that the stricter measures have been met with support from staff and parents, but he thinks it will be a learning curve for the pupils, especially those arriving from primary schools who did not have to wear masks before. “When students have to have a mask on all the time it is an easy rule to maintain, whereas now they have to remember to put their mask on when they leave the classroom,” he said. …

“With the face masks during lessons it was harder to learn the names or tell who is misbehaving. Many pupils would be agitated towards the end of the class,” said Grace Stansfield, a languages teacher at the school. “And especially when teaching languages, it is useful for the children to see you speak.” Like other staff members, Stansfield hopes that the school’s current measures will prevent a return to the stricter regime from last year.

The Guardian throws its weight behind the enforcement of strict measures at the school by quoting from a number of students who seem to be happy to carry on wearing face masks.

“The masks can be irritating, but they are there for protection,” said Alistair Daoud, a year 12 pupil who has lost his grandmother due to the virus. “I would rather wear a face mask than lose 12 days of valuable learning time for isolation.” However, Alistair is glad that he will only have to wear a mask outside the classroom, as he found it distracting during lessons. Many of his teachers agree with him.

Worth reading in full.

PHE Data Update: Vaccine Effectiveness Just 15% in Over-50s, 27% in Under-50s. Deaths Cut by 74% in Over-50s, But Just 20% in Under-50s

The latest Technical Briefing on the variants of concern, number 22, has been published by Public Health England (PHE), so we can update our (unadjusted) estimates of vaccine effectiveness against the Delta variant using the data it includes from sequenced Delta samples from positive PCR test results in England.

As before, we subtract the figures in briefing 22 from those in briefing 17 to give the figures for the period June 22nd to August 29th. We also use figures for proportions of the population vaccinated by age derived from the PHE Covid surveillance reports.

Starting with the over-50s, for the period June 22nd to August 29th, PHE reports 47,874 Delta infections in the double vaccinated and 5,748 in the unvaccinated. PHE figures show that in this period the proportion of the over-50s double vaccinated increased from 87% to 89%, giving a mean of 88%, and the proportion unvaccinated was stable at 9% (Note: not 10% as I stated previously). Calculating the vaccine effectiveness against Delta infection in the over-50s (1-(47,874/88%)/(5,748/9%)) gives a figure of 15%. This is the same as the figure I calculated two weeks ago, though now using the more accurate figure of 9% rather than 10% for the proportion unvaccinated. This means that it represents a decline (using 9% for the previous calculation would give a VE of 24%). This continues to be very different to the estimate in the recent Oxford University study using ONS survey data, a study which I criticised for numerous inconsistent and implausible findings.

With regard to deaths with Covid (within 28 days of a positive test), PHE reports 1,004 in the double vaccinated and 399 in the unvaccinated in the over-50s in this period. This works out (1-(1,004/88%)/(399/9%)) at a vaccine effectiveness against death of 74%, down slightly from 75% using data from the previous briefing (even with the change to 9% unvaccinated). This is a 74% reduction in mortality including any reduced risk of infection, not in addition to it. It continues to be an encouraging figure, albeit lower than earlier studies have suggested, and dropping week on week.

For the under-50s, for the period June 22nd to August 29th, PHE reports 58,714 Delta infections in the double vaccinated and 160,143 in the unvaccinated. PHE figures show that in this period the proportion of under-50s double vaccinated increased from 18% to 39%, giving a mean of 28%, and the proportion unvaccinated decreased from 61% to 51%, giving a mean of 56%. Calculating the vaccine effectiveness against Delta infection in the under-50s (1-(58,714/28%)/(160,143/56%)) gives a figure of 27%. This is down from 37% two weeks ago, and though higher than in the over-50s, is still very low and much lower than earlier studies (including the trial) indicated.

For deaths, PHE reports 37 in the double vaccinated and 93 in the unvaccinated in the under-50s in this period. This works out (1-(37/28%)/(93/56%)) at a vaccine effectiveness against death of 20%. This is up from 12% two weeks ago, but is still very low and much lower than in the over-50s. This may be because higher risk people are prioritised for vaccination, or are more likely to consent to it, in the younger age groups.

These figures are much lower than those commonly quoted and used in modelling, and if they are closer to the truth then they mean the official, self-congratulatory estimates of “100,000 deaths” and “24.4 million infections” prevented by the vaccines are huge overestimates.

By plotting the differences between the reported total Delta cases in the last four briefings we can also get a picture of how they are changing over time in the different age and vaccine-status cohorts. The red and yellow lines in the chart below show that new Delta infections in the unvaccinated have started to increase again, but not by as much as those in the vaccinated (for this purpose, all who are at least 21 days after their first dose), which have continued to surge. A majority of new infections (57,565 out of 94,148, or 61%) are now in the vaccinated. This means that the recent increase in reported infections in England is being driven primarily by infections in the vaccinated. The fainter lines show the trends in the over- and under-50s, indicating that in both age cohorts new Delta infections in the vaccinated now outnumber those in the unvaccinated, and that new infections in the vaccinated over-50s are increasing particularly fast. This helps to explain the declining vaccine effectiveness estimates given above.

JCVI Recommends Against Jabs For Teens

In a pleasant surprise, the JCVI, the U.K.’s vaccine regulator, has decided not to recommend that healthy 12-15 year-olds get vaccinated due to the risk of side effects. The BBC has more.

The U.K.’s vaccine advisory body has refused to give the green light to vaccinating healthy children aged 12-15 years-old on health grounds alone.

But the JCVI said the Government should consider wider issues including disruption to schools.

Ministers across the U.K. have asked chief medical officers to look at whether that tips the balance.

Meanwhile, an extra 200,000 teens with underlying conditions will now be eligible for two doses.

Doctors identified that children with chronic heart, lung and liver conditions were at much higher risk of Covid than healthy children. A group of 150,000 children with conditions such as severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome and severely weakened immune systems are already eligible.

This is out of a total of three million children in this age group across the U.K.

The decision on healthy children was based on concern over an extremely rare side effect of the Pfizer vaccine which causes heart inflammation.

But as children are at such low risk from the virus, they decided that vaccination would offer only “marginal gain” and, therefore, there was “insufficient” evidence to offer mass vaccination for this age group.

Stop Press: A journalist colleague passed on some information from a source inside the vaccination programme. Sounds grimly plausible. Below is a summary:

  1. An announcement to be made to the public this Sunday confirming that vaccination of healthy 12-15 year-olds WILL go ahead. Likely to be a decision made by Chris Whitty and the other CMOs, given the JCVI’s position and the fact that no senior politician wants to take responsibility for it.
  2. The start date for first jabs in arms has been delayed until September 13th, a week longer that originally planned. The end date by which time we are required to have offered a Pfizer jab to all healthy 12-15 year olds remains November 1st. Uptake of 75% is expected, although I think that’s a little high, particularly in light of today’s JCVI announcement. We have had to complete a planning return setting out numbers of schools and vaccinations planned for the week beginning Sept 13th – there’s going to be a big push to maximise the number of vaccinations given in schools during the first week, consent be damned.
  3. All relevant documents including those relating to consent forms, consent process, national protocols, etc. will only be released to NHS Trusts on Monday Sept 6th, the day after the Whitty announcement is expected. It will be interesting to see how they get around the Green Book consent protocols.
  4. There is some consternation within the programme that NHS trusts only found out from the BBC, not the national team leaders, that the top-up third dose (not the booster) for the immunologically suppressed will go ahead from Sept 6th. The booster programme is still planned to start on Sept 20th with priority for care homes and health and social care staff likely to be first.

Stop Press 2: MailOnline has more on this story – much more.

Why Do British Passport Holders Have to Take a PCR Test as a Condition of Entry to the U.K. But Not Illegal Migrants?

A member of the House of Lords has written to us, pointing out an anomaly in the British Government’s testing rules for people travelling to the U.K. which he uncovered via a Parliamentary Question to a Home Office minister.

You may be interested in the written Parliamentary Question below. During Covid I have been travelling regularly to Brussels for business meetings. Despite being double vaccinated, every time I return to the U.K., even if I have only been abroad for two days, I must take a PCR test before returning as I am told that the lateral flow test is unsatisfactory.

Yet here is HMG giving illegal migrants who almost certainly are unvaccinated no PCR tests at all. Also, HMG is quoting as its source for advice Public Health England – the same people quoted by HMG as advising business people and holidaymakers that lateral flow tests are not a satisfactory safeguard.

Next week when the House returns I will put down some follow-up questions.

Best wishes,

Richard Balfe

Baroness Williams of Trafford, the Home Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL2330):

Question: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what percentage of COVID-19 PCR tests on illegal immigrants to the U.K. have returned a positive result; and of these positive samples, what percentage have now been genomically sequenced. (HL2330)

Tabled on: August 18th, 2021

This question was grouped with the following question(s) for answer:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether immigrants entering the U.K. from France illegally are required to have a COVID-19 PCR test upon detection by police or immigration officers. (HL2329)

Answer: Baroness Williams of Trafford: The Home Office is following guidance published by Public Health England, Health Protection Scotland and the NHS with regards to Covid testing for migrant arrivals.

All migrants are tested on arrival with a lateral flow test, any refusing are treated as if infectious and isolated. Lateral flow testing is a fast and simple way to test people who do not have symptoms of COVID-19, but who may still be spreading the virus. Arrivals who present as symptomatic or who provide a positive lateral flow test are allocated to an approved quarantine site.

Due to the small possibility of false positives associated with lateral flow tests, any individual who receives a positive result at a residential short-term holding facility in England or an Immigration Removal Centre, will be offered a PRC test to confirm the result. Any detained individual with symptoms of COVID-19, or testing positive for COVID-19 will be placed in protective isolation for at least 10 days and Public Health England informed.

We do not hold information regarding the percentage which have been genomically sequenced as this is the responsibility of Public Health England.

Date and time of answer: September 2nd, 2021, at 15:55.

If any readers have suggestions for follow-up questions, please email us here and we will pass them on.

The Bangladesh Mask Study Is a Missed Opportunity

On August 31st, a new randomised controlled trial on mask efficacy was published online. This study is the first of its kind. While the well-known Danish mask study looked at whether wearing a mask reduces one’s own risk of infection, the new study looked at whether community masking reduces the general level of infection.

The main argument for wearing a mask has always been that it makes infected people less likely to transmit the virus, rather than it provides any protection to the wearer. Hence the new study is a far more valid test of the claim that community masking ‘works’.

As I’ll explain, however, it’s a missed opportunity. And this is a shame because some aspects of the experimental design are quite powerful, and – given the number of people involved – it must have been very expensive (meaning there’s now less money available for the next big study).

The basic set-up was as follows. The authors randomly assigned 600 villages in rural Bangladesh – comprising more than 300,000 people – to one of two groups: an intervention group and a control group.

Villages in the intervention group received an eight-week mask promotion campaign, which involved distribution of masks, promotion of masks in public spaces, and role-modelling by community leaders (including imams at local mosques). Villages in the control group did not receive any interventions.

The main outcome variables were measures of seroprevalence. Using phone and in-person surveys, the researchers obtained data on the number of people who experienced COVID-19 symptoms after the intervention. They then collected blood samples from some of those individuals to gauge the number who were seropositive.

Overall, mask-wearing reached 42.3% in the intervention villages, compared to 13.3% in the control villages. What about the outcome variables? 7.6% of participants in the intervention villages reported COVID-19 symptoms, compared to 8.6% in the control villages.

And when the researchers zoomed in on those who reported COVID-19 symptoms and tested positive for antibodies, the seroprevalence was 0.68% in the intervention villages, versus 0.76% in the control villages. (Note: the figure in the chart below is ‘0.69’ because it’s an adjusted value from a model.)

Boris Seeks to Renew ‘Emergency’ Coronavirus Powers

Parliament will vote on whether to renew the Coronavirus Act later this month, a year and a half after it was first introduced to grant ’emergency’ powers to the Government. A clause within the Act means that it will automatically lapse in March 2022. Ministers are keen to keep hold of their powers until then due in part to fears of ‘potential challenges’ this winter. The Financial Times has the story.

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister, will face his first parliamentary battle of the autumn over the measure when the House of Commons returns from its summer recess next week. Ministers are preparing for a fight with anti-lockdown backbench Conservative MPs over the Coronavirus Act, which handed the Government sweeping emergency powers in March 2020.

The legislation includes lifting restrictions on public bodies, such as limits on school class sizes, and allows the police to force those suspected of having the virus into self-isolation. …

When parliament last voted on the act, five months ago, the then Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said he could not rule out a further extension but said his own preference was for it not to be renewed. 

But ministers will argue that emergency powers are still required for another six months, despite limited restrictions in place at the moment, in light of potential challenges ahead this winter.

Officials at the Department for Health and Social Care said the extension of the legislation was necessary because coronavirus cases across the U.K. were currently running high, hospitalisations were rising and a difficult flu season was expected. Ministers are also braced for a surge of cases when schools return to England in the next week.

One Government insider said the Government had no choice but to keep the legislation in place. “The Coronavirus Act is going to be one of the trickier bills to pass. We’re gearing up for a fight with our own MPs, who are going to be reluctant to support it.”

30 Tory MPs rebelled in March’s vote to renew the act and the rebels believe that the number will be higher this month. 

Mark Harper, the Conservative MP who Chairs the influential Covid Recovery Group of lockdown sceptics, said there was no need to renew the legislation which contained “the most draconian detention powers in modern British legal history”, citing the provisions for indefinite detention.

“Our vaccine roll-out has been a huge success. We have seen a dramatic and welcome fall in people suffering from serious disease and death from Covid as a result,” he said.

“We are going to have to learn to live with this virus, and retaining sweeping powers of detention in the Coronavirus Act is not consistent with this. What justification can there be for extending these measures?”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: “The crisis point of the pandemic has passed,” says David Davis MP. “So it is now time to roll back the extensive powers unwisely handed over to the State.”

Quarter of Young Adults in U.K. Not Vaccinated Against Covid

Young Brits aged 18 and up have been able to get their first dose of a Covid vaccine since late June. Since this time, there have been numerous ad campaigns telling the young they will “miss out on the good times” if they don’t get ‘jabbed’, constant offers of petty bribes, including free burgers (and some not-so-petty bribes, including a £5,000 cash prize) incentivising vaccination and the underlying threat of vaccine passport checks at nightclubs and other ‘large venues’.

All of this has been intended to “coax and cajole” the young into getting ‘jabbed’, but the latest figures show that one in four young adults in the U.K. still haven’t come forward. The Independent has the story.

In total, 2.76 million people aged between 18 and 29 years-old were yet to receive a first dose on Wednesday – down only slightly from an estimated 2.81 million the previous week, according to figures released by the U.K.’s four national health agencies.

Their latest estimates suggest that the percentages of people in this age group still unvaccinated range from 23.5% in Wales, 29.2% in Northern Ireland, 25.6% in Scotland and 27.7% in England. …

Following reports in late July that Boris Johnson was said to be “raging” about the low uptake among young people, the Government has launched a host of initiatives encouraging young people to get inoculated, ranging from publicity campaigns to pop-up vaccination centres. …

Despite these initiatives, the latest figures suggest there is still a significant portion of young adults reluctant to have the vaccine.

In Birmingham, more than half of the population in that age group have still not received a vaccine dose, according to analysis by the PA news agency – making it the local authority in England with the highest estimated percentage of unvaccinated 18 to 29 year-olds.

The next highest is Coventry at 49.8%, followed by Liverpool with 46.7%, and the London borough of Islington, where 46.4% of people in that age group are yet to receive a jab.

In total there are 54 local authority areas in England where at least one third of young adults have yet to receive a vaccine dose.

These include the big cities of Manchester, Leicester, Sheffield and Leeds.

Worth reading in full.

The Push for Vaccination of Children and Vaccine Boosters Despite the Lack of Evidence They Prevent Infection or Transmission is Approaching a Religious Mania

As the Government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) gives the go-ahead for third-jab boosters for the most vulnerable, political pressure is mounting on it also to approve a wider rollout of boosters as well as inoculations for 12-15 year-olds.

Asked if the JCVI should get a “wiggle on” about decisions on boosters and jabs for children, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told Sky News: “Speaking as a parent myself, I think parents would find it incredibly reassuring to know that they had a choice as to whether their child would be vaccinated or not.”

Former Health Secretary and current Chairman of the Commons Health Select Committee Jeremy Hunt tweeted: “The latest study from King’s College London showed vaccine effectiveness dropping after six months, so why are we hanging around?”

Is it really appropriate for ministers and MPs to be putting pressure on a Government advisory body to give the answers they want to hear? How is that following ‘the Science’?

For its part, the JCVI has indicated that it wants to wait for more evidence, and also appears to have a split of opinion among its members. However, the Government may have successfully forced the issue, with the Guardian reporting that the committee held a long discussion on children’s vaccination on Thursday, followed by a vote, and that a decision may be announced as soon as Friday.

Previously, JCVI Chairman, Professor Anthony Harnden, had said he thought it “highly likely” there will be a booster programme, with decisions “over the next few weeks”. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there are questions about which variant to target with the boosters, and identifying who really needs one.

What we don’t want to do is boost people and then find we have a new variant and we can’t boost them again because we’ve boosted them too soon – and those people might not have needed the booster in the first place. So there’s a lot of very complicated modelling and data analysis that is going on about this at the moment.

JCVI member Professor Adam Finn is clear that the “main objective” of vaccination should be to protect against serious illness, and that the evidence of waning immunity against infection is something to monitor not an urgent call to action.

I think the ZOE study, and a couple of other studies we recently had, do show the beginnings of a drop off of protection against asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic disease. But other studies are showing maintenance of good protection against serious illness and hospitalisation.

In May he told the Today programme that children should not be immunised if at all possible as a matter of principle.

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.