Day: 9 October 2021

News Round-Up

Two Million People in England Have Had Booster Vaccine

The Health Secretary has celebrated the latest milestone in the booster Covid vaccine roll-out which has now seen two million people in England receive their third dose.

The Independent has more.

The top-up jabs are being given to people [aged 50 and over, as well as those] with severely weakened immune systems who might not have mounted a strong response to their initial inoculations [and] to health and social care workers.

Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England, said she has had hers and encouraged others who were eligible to do the same.

“It’s fantastic to see that just three weeks into the booster campaign, more than 2 million people have been quick to get their top-up in protection ahead of what will be a busy winter period for the NHS,” she said. …

Some 49 million first doses have now been administered in the U.K. – about 73% of the population – along with about 45 million second doses (67%).

The figures mean that England’s rates have slipped from being the highest in Europe to 12th.

Experts say the fall is due to a decision to vaccinate children over the age of 12 taking longer than in many other countries and a refusal to create a vaccination passport system such as that being used in France and Scotland.

Worth reading in full.

Councils Running “Vaccination Webinars” in Effort to Get Consent from Parents to Jab Their Children

Amid reports of a shaky start to the roll-out of vaccines for healthy teenagers – which could now last well into the Christmas period – councils and local health officials have started giving “vaccination webinars” which are intended to persuade parents to give their consent for the ‘jabbing’ of their children. The Guardian has the story.

Headteachers have called for more resources to speed up the scheme as it becomes clear that the Government’s target for the programme to be completed by half-term will be missed.

Public health teams in Stockport and Oldham have advised schools that Covid vaccinations sessions will run until mid-to-late November. Schools elsewhere, including in north London, Watford and Staffordshire, have been told that they will not be visited by vaccination teams until next month. Other headteachers are still waiting to be given a date. …

Geoff Baron, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “There is increasing frustration among school leaders about delays to the rollout of Covid vaccinations for 12-15 year-olds. We are at a loss to understand why the Government has not placed more focus on ensuring this happens as quickly as possible.

“The main issues appear to be where healthcare teams don’t have enough staff on hand to vaccinate so many students at once, and where demand for the vaccine has outstripped supply.”

Councils and local health officials are meanwhile running “vaccination webinars” to persuade reluctant parents to give consent for their children to be jabbed in school. Official take-up rates have yet to be released, but health officials have expressed concern that if they follow the pattern of adults, children in disadvantaged areas will be less likely to be immunised and therefore more likely to have their schooling disrupted.

Parents across the country, including the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Haringey, Greenwich and Merton, and in Leicestershire, are being invited to webinars to put concerns to clinicians and vaccine professionals. At a session last week by Barnet council attended by about 100 parents, health officials were quizzed about whether children who have already had Covid and have natural immunity should still be jabbed and why the U.K. has embarked on vaccinations for children when other countries have not. Myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, and possible changes to girls’ menstruation cycles were also discussed. Some families raised fears that their refusal to give consent would not be respected.

Health officials reassured families that only pupils with “explicit parental consent” would receive the jab on school vaccination days. They said “processes” were currently being devised for administering the jab to children who want it but do not have parental consent and are assessed as capable of understanding the decision-making process and health implications – known as the “Gillick competence”.

Worth reading in full.

The Modellers Keep On Making the Same Errors – And the Implications Are Huge

There follows a guest post from our in-house doctor, formerly a senior medic in the NHS, who draws attention to the errors made repeatedly by the modellers and government advisors and the huge implications of them.

Napoleon Bonaparte remarked that “history is the version of past events that people have decided to agree on”. When the official version of the pandemic is written, I wonder what analysis will be made of the role of statistical modellers and public health experts in driving Government policy over the last 18 months?

To inform this question it may be helpful to examine the recent evidence of how predictions have matched up to real events. For example, on September 8th, SPI-M-O (one of the multitudinous acronym salad bodies advising the Government), produced a paper entitled “Medium-term projections“.

Perhaps mindful of the woeful inaccuracy of previous predictions, the very first sentence heavily caveats the entire document:

These projections are not forecasts or predictions. They represent a scenario in which the trajectory of the epidemic continues to follow the trends that were seen in the data up to September 6th.

If that is the level of confidence the authors of the report have in their own abilities, one rather wonders what value this publication contains – yet this is the level of advice being given to decision-makers.

Firstly, to the “projection” of admissions. The document is in PDF format, so I am unable to reproduce it here, but the graphical representations show a 90% confidence interval fan chart for the period September 12th-28th. Hospital admissions in England are “projected” to be between 600 to 1,200 per day – a fairly wide spread. Graph One shows what actually happened – daily admissions on the blue bars, seven-day moving averages on the brown line.

It is clear that admissions have been consistently below the lower ‘projection’ for the entire period and the seven-day moving average at the end of the month was below 500 admissions per day.

Government Considering Scrapping Free Covid Tests, Freeing up Billions of Pounds

Free Covid tests could be scrapped under new plans to save billions of pounds, with free tests to be given only in high-risk settings such as care homes. This would mean that a Covid passport system wherein people had to prove either that they had been vaccinated or that they had recently tested negative for the virus would place those who had chosen not to get vaccinated under further financial strain. France decided to start charging for tests straight after the introduction of vaccine passports was announced in July. The Telegraph has the story.

Discussions are under way in the Government to scale back the arrangements that allow everyone to get a lateral flow test and some people to get PCR tests without paying…

The new system could see free tests provided only in high-risk settings such as care homes, hospitals and schools, as well as for people with symptoms, though details are not yet agreed.

The U.K. is an international outlier on the issue, with Germany and France moving to end universal free testing this month

Britain also carries out many more tests than other countries, 4,022 per 1,000 people at the end of last month compared to 1,268 in Spain and 885 in Germany, according to Our World in Data.

The costs are sizable, with one insider citing it as the equivalent of 1p on income tax, and there are fears taxes would have to rise were the scheme to continue.  

A Whitehall source supportive of ending mass free testing said: “It’s agreed that universal access isn’t sustainable or necessary given high vaccination levels.

“We now need to decide what the parameters should be that reasonably qualify access to free testing.” …

It is unclear where Boris Johnson is on the matter, but the Prime Minister is expected to have the ultimate say on whether and when the free mass testing system should change.

Downing Street is understood to be playing down the chances of mass free testing ending over the winter, given the ongoing Covid uncertainty. 

Worth reading in full.

U.K.’s Biggest Source of Greenhouse Gas is an ‘Eco’ Power Station

A ‘green’ power station subsidised with taxpayers’ money is Britain’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gas, according to new research. The Daily Mail has more.

Drax in Yorkshire burns wood pellets, which are treated as a ‘renewable’ fuel and the site has attracted more than £800 million of taxpayer subsidies.

But analysis shows that the burning of wood for power – known as biomass – has been the cause of more carbon dioxide emissions than coal since 2019.

Drax burns millions of tonnes of wood to provide around 12% of the UK’s total electric power, generating 15.6 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide emissions each year, which cause the planet to heat up by trapping heat around the Earth – the greenhouse effect.

The power station is also one of the top five emitters in Europe of toxic air pollution particles known as PM10.

Currently accounting rules allow Drax to be treated as ‘carbon neutral’.

It is argued that emissions from burning wood are offset by the growth of new trees to replace those harvested for burning – although trees burnt may have taken 40-100 years to reach maturity.

This assumption, shared by the EU and UK Government makes it eligible for significant public subsidy.

But scientific opinion is changing, and wood burning is increasingly seen as making climate change worse. The European Academies Science Advisory Council states that using woody biomass for power “is not effective in mitigating climate change and may even increase the risk of dangerous climate change”.

The research from pressure group Ember also shows emissions from burning wood now far exceed those from burning coal. Wood burning is now the second largest contributor to the power sector’s CO2 emissions overall after fossil gas.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Andrew Neil says the cost of the Government’s ‘net zero’ policy is finally hitting home. The Daily Mail has more.

News Round-Up