Day: 27 September 2021

News Round-Up

English Hospitals Told They Can Drop Some Covid Measures to Help Reduce Backlog

In a move aimed at helping to cut down long and ever-growing treatment waiting lists, English hospitals have been told they can scrap some of the ‘anti-Covid’ measures they were forced to introduce during lockdown, including testing and isolating patients before planned operations. BBC News has the story.

The changes, recommended by the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA), are aimed at easing pressure on the NHS.

It says testing and isolating patients before planned operations can be dropped and hospitals can return to normal cleaning procedures.

Social distancing can also be reduced from 2m to 1m in some areas.

More than five million people are waiting for NHS hospital treatment in England and hundreds of thousands have been waiting more than a year.

Although the Government has announced an extra £5.4 billion over the next six months to respond to the backlog caused by the pandemic, ministers have warned waiting lists could get worse before they get better, as more people come forward.

UKHSA Chief Executive Dr. Jenny Harries said the new recommendations would help local hospitals plan more elective care.

“This is a first step to help the NHS treat more patients more quickly, while ensuring their safety and balancing their different needs for care,” she said. …

Local hospitals will be left to decide when and how these changes are introduced.

Guidance on which measures can be relaxed in GP surgeries, dentists and for ambulance trusts are still being considered.

The recommendations were based on reviews of evidence and broad agreement from experts in infection prevention and control, the UKHSA said.

Worth reading in full.

Pfizer Will Ask U.S. FDA for Approval of Its Vaccines in 5-11 Year-Olds “In Days”

We’ve not yet finished debating the vaccination of 12-15 year-olds. But Pfizer’s CEO, who hinted at “annual re-vaccinations” against Covid over the weekend, is already looking to go one step further by asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “in days” to authorise the use of its vaccine in even younger children. MailOnline has the story.

On Sunday, in an appearance on ABC’s This Week, Albert Bourla was asked when the country should expect the shots to be approved in kids between ages five and 11.

The New York-based firm, along with its German partner BioNTech, recently released data that it said showed the vaccine was safe and effective in a [sic] smaller doses in elementary schoolers.

“I think we are going to submit this data pretty soon,” Bourla told host George Stephanopoulos.

“It’s a question of days, not weeks, and then it is up to FDA to be able to review the data and come to their conclusions and approve it or not.”

According to clinicaltrials.gov, Pfizer’s study in younger children worked similarly to the way it did in older children and adults.

A total of 4,500 younger kids from ages six months to 11 years were enrolled at nearly 100 clinical trial sites in 26 U.S. states, Finland, Poland and Spain

About half of the ages five-to-11 group were given two doses 21 days apart and the other half were given placebo shots.

The team then tested the safety, tolerability and immune response generated by the vaccine by measuring antibody levels in the young subjects.

Pfizer said it had selected lower doses for Covid vaccine trials in children than are given to teenagers and adults. …

Bourla assured that Pfizer would be ready to ship these smaller doses across the country if the FDA authorises the shot in younger children. …

Unlike the larger clinical trial conducted in adults, the pediatric trial did not measure efficacy by comparing the number of Covid cases among the vaccine group to the number in the placebo group.

Instead, scientists looked at levels of neutralizing antibodies in young vaccine recipients and compared the levels to those seen in adults.

The companies expect data on how well the vaccine works in children between ages two and five and between six months and two years of age by the end of the year.

Worth reading in full.

People in Poor Regions Almost Twice as Likely to Wait More than 12 Months for Hospital Treatment

People living in some of England’s poorer regions are more likely to be forced to wait longer to receive routine treatment on the NHS, according to a new analysis. Waiting lists are also growing at a faster rate in these areas, where people are less likely to be able to afford private healthcare. The Telegraph has the story.

Data from The King’s Trust and Healthwatch England found that 7% of people waiting for treatment in the poorest regions will wait more than 12 months. 

However, for the most affluent areas, this figure is just 4%. …

From April 2020 to July 2021, waiting lists have swelled by 55%, on average, in the most deprived parts of the country compared with 36% in the richest areas.

Despite the efforts of NHS staff during the pandemic, the backlog has grown to 5.61 million people – almost one in every 10 people in England.

The NHS has now been told by the watchdog to ensure people have “interim support” in place while it tackles the record backlog of untreated patients. 

The analysis comes as a poll Healthwatch England exposed the toll the waiting list is having on people’s physical and mental health.

A survey of 1,600 people who were either on the waiting list themselves or had a loved one in need of treatment, found that 54% said it was affecting their mental health while 57% said the wait was affecting their physical health.

And 48% did not have any support to manage their condition during their wait.

Almost one in five (18%) have already gone private for treatment or are considering it, but 47% said that paying for private treatment “was not an option”.

Worth reading in full.

Pressure Grows on Government to Ditch Quarantine Policy

On Saturday, the Irish Government announced that incoming travellers from its list of ‘designated states’ (Ireland’s ‘Red List’) would no longer have to quarantine for two weeks, creating pressure on Westminster to follow suit. The Telegraph has more.

Hotel quarantine could face the axe amid growing pressure on the Government to follow Ireland’s decision to ditch the policy.

The Department for Transport (DfT) is understood to back the move which would end the requirement for travellers from Red List countries to self-isolate in Government-approved hotels at a cost of up to £2,285 per person.

The travel industry is also pressing for the policy to be ditched following Ireland’s announcement on Saturday that it was removing the final six countries from its red list and freeing the last 50 travellers from the self-isolation in hotels from Sunday.

“We can’t forget that we’re still an outlier on arrivals testing and hotel quarantine, and the Irish decision should hopefully embolden ministers to move to home quarantine as quickly as possible for Red List passengers,” said a senior travel industry source.

“Hotel quarantine was very much a policy of its time but things have moved on.”

Hotel quarantine was introduced at the start of the year amid growing concern at the emergence of variants that it was feared could undermine the effectiveness of the vaccine roll-out.

However, since then the variants of most concern – such as the beta strain that emerged in South Africa – have been marginalised by the dominant Delta variant, that originated in India and is now the most common in the U.K. as well as most other countries.

The Irish Government’s decision was made on the advice of its Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tony Holohan on the basis that the dominance of the Delta variant meant hotel quarantine was no longer need to contain other variants of concern.

U.K. has more countries on its Red List than any other E.U. nations at 54 and is one of the few countries still to have hotel quarantine alongside Australia and New Zealand, both of which have far lower rates of vaccination than the U.K.

Worth reading in full.

Why Did So Few Economists Speak Out Against Lockdown?

In a previous post, I mentioned Paul Ormerod’s argument that governments have relied too heavily on epidemiologists, and not enough on economists, when crafting their responses to COVID-19. (For example, they’ve consistently failed to subject their own policies to rigorous cost-benefit analysis.)

However, survey evidence indicates that many economists were just as strongly pro-lockdown as the doctors, epidemiologists and public health scientists who’ve been advising governments.

In April of 2020, members of the ‘IGM economic experts panel’ (a sample of 44 academic economists based in the U.S.) were asked whether a “comprehensive policy response will involve tolerating a very large contraction in economic activity until the spread of infections has dropped significantly”. Of those who answered, zero per cent disagreed.

In addition, zero per cent of the panel disagreed that “abandoning severe lockdowns at a time when the likelihood of a resurgence in infections remains high will lead to greater total economic damage than sustaining the lockdowns to eliminate the resurgence risk”.

In a survey of 47 Australian economists from May of 2020, only 19% disagreed that “the benefits to Australian society of maintaining social distancing measures sufficient to keep R less than 1 for COVID-19 are likely to exceed the costs”.

Why did so many economists back the lockdowns? Mikko Packalen and Jay Bhattacharya (of Great Barrington Declaration fame) seek to answer this question in a recent essay for Collateral Global.

They begin by taking the economics profession to task for its unqualified support of lockdowns. Of course, some economists did question the lockdowns, but the authors’ sense is that most did not. At the very least, few chose to air their reservations publicly.

Packalen and Bhattacharya are particularly exercised, they tell us, that so few economists raised the alarm about the costs of lockdown. After all, economists are meant to recognise that there’s ‘no such thing as a free lunch’.

As to why so few economists spoke out, the authors suggest a number of reasons. First, economists have a reputation for being somewhat miserly, and they were concerned about playing to type. This made them reluctant, during the early months of the pandemic, to raise the small matter of how much this was all going to cost.

Second, economists – like almost all professionals – are members of the ‘laptop class’ (i.e., people who sit around on their laptops all day). Lockdown didn’t affect their lives nearly as much as it affected those of small business owners, or workers who couldn’t access a furlough scheme.

Third, as economics has become more technical and more specialised, it has acquired a distinctly technocratic streak. Despite the subject’s roots in liberal political economy, the authors note, “there is now a widespread belief that almost any societal problem has a technocratic, top-down solution”.

Fourth, academic economics has formed a rather cosy relationship with big business, particularly the investment banks of Wall Street and the giant tech firms of Silicon Valley. It’s less surprising, therefore, that “the dismal science has had very little to say about how lockdowns have favoured big business”.

Packalen and Bhattacharya’s essay contains many other interesting observations, and is worth reading in full.