Seasonal Flu

English Patients Could Get Routine Annual Covid Jabs at Same Time as They Get Flu Vaccinations, Says Nadhim Zahawi

The media focus is currently centred on the booster jabs that will be given this year – starting with the over-50s and care workers – but the Government is already looking to the booster vaccine roll-outs of the future. Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi says that English patients could get routine annual Covid jabs at the same time as they get their flu vaccinations. The Guardian has the story.

Scientists have warned that the NHS is likely to be under significant pressure from other seasonal illnesses as well as Covid infections.

Zahawi said he hoped the booster programme would be the “last piece of the jigsaw” to allow society to continue through the winter without lockdowns.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he said: “Where possible we will try and co-administer – with one caveat – with flu. GPs and pharmacies, which are the backbone of the vaccination programme, can rapidly vaccinate lots of people.

“This is probably the last piece of the jigsaw to allow us to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic and I hope by next year we will be in a position to deal with this virus with an annual inoculation programme as we do flu.” …

Boris Johnson is on Tuesday to confirm the start of a booster jabs programme for the over-50s, a day after Government scientists finally approved vaccinations for older schoolchildren. [Why finally? Why were they supposed to give the green light?]

Worth reading in full.

Total Focus On Covid Could Mean Flu Vaccines Less Effective This Year

Medical experts are concerned that flu vaccines may be less effective this winter as resources have been focused on Covid over the past year and there has been a significant drop in the number of global shipments of influenza surveillance samples. MailOnline has the story.

Every year a new influenza vaccine is developed to protect against several strains of the virus that have been circulating around the world.

But over the past year, surveillance of flu strains dropped to a fraction of normal levels as medical resources were turned over to monitoring Covid.

There has also been a lack of flu infections because of lockdowns worldwide, which has also reduced surveillance.

The effectiveness of flu vaccines varies from one season to the next but it is estimated at between 30 and 60%.

It comes amid fears of a bad bout of influenza this year due to a lack of natural immunity caused by lockdowns.

Last September – five months before experts decide which strain to protect against – global genetic sequencing of flu had dropped by 94%, according to jab makers.

And global shipments of influenza surveillance samples have dropped by 62% compared to before the pandemic.

Dr. Beverly Taylor, Head of Influenza and Scientific Affairs at Seqirus, which provides Britain with seasonal flu jabs, said: “We could have reduced the opportunity to identify viruses as they emerge.

“We certainly have reduced the opportunity to look at which viruses would give the best overall protection and the best coverage of all the circulating viruses.”

There are concerns the NHS could be overwhelmed this winter by a triple-whammy of surging flu and Covid admissions, and backlog patients needing treatment.

Experts also fear immunity to flu has waned over the year-and-a-half since the pandemic began because so few people have caught the virus.

Worth reading in full.

Britain Set to Carry Out Largest Flu Vaccine Roll-Out in Its History This Winter

Encouraged by its large Covid vaccine programme, Britain will carry out the largest flu vaccine roll-out in its history this winter, with all secondary school pupils and children aged two and three set to be offered vaccines. Officials expect that, altogether, 35 million people could be vaccinated against seasonal flu this year and that Covid and flu vaccines will continue to be given for “years to come”. MailOnline has the story.

NHS England and Improvement, and Public Health England have issued the 2021-2022 annual flu letter to providers, outlining their plans for this year’s expanded programme.

From September, 35 million people including all secondary school students up to Year 11, children aged two and three on August 31st, all primary school children, people aged 50 and over, pregnant women, unpaid carers, and frontline health and adult social care staff will be eligible for the free jab.

The drive will build on last year’s expanded flu programme, which saw a record 19 million jabs being administered.

[Health Secretary Sajid] Javid encouraged all those eligible to get their flu jab when they are called.

“Flu can be a serious illness and we want to build a wall of protection by immunising a record number of people,” he said. 

“With the nation getting closer to normal life, we must learn to live with Covid alongside other viruses and we’re offering the free flu jab to millions more people to help keep them safe this winter.

“The phenomenal scale of the Covid vaccination programme is a clear demonstration of the positive impact vaccination can make and I encourage all those eligible to get their flu jab when called forward.”

Public Health England medical director Dr Yvonne Doyle said the upcoming flu season will be “highly unpredictable” combined with “the likelihood that Covid will still be circulating”.

The flu programme is expected to be delivered alongside any booster programme for Covid vaccinations.  

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is expected to publish its final advice on the Covid booster jab programme later this summer. …

In a letter sent to senior leaders, GPs and hospital bosses earlier this month, NHS England said health systems should be preparing to deliver booster doses of the coronavirus vaccination between September 6th and December 17th. 

NHS Providers Chief Executive Chris Hopson said people will [need] to be vaccinated for flu and coronavirus for “years to come”.     

“Rolling out a flu programme of this scale alongside a Covid booster campaign will take a huge amount of planning, collaboration and commitment, particularly from primary care,” he said.  

“It is incredibly ambitious in its scale and complexity, and while we have no doubt the NHS can meet this challenge, we do need to think about how we enable NHS staff to carry out this programme while meeting the other pressures they face.

“We’ll be vaccinating against flu and Covid for years to come so let’s put our approach on a sustainable footing as soon as possible.”

Worth reading in full.

Should We Ban Cars?

As I’ve noted before, one of the main justifications for lockdowns has been the “externality argument”. This is the argument that government is justified in restricting our freedom in order to prevent us from harming others – which we might do by transmitting a deadly virus. As Richard Dawkins put it:

You can argue over whether masks, handwashing, banning groups etc are effective. What you can NOT argue is that you are personally entitled to take the risk as a matter of individual liberty. You risk other lives as well as your own. It’s just elementary epidemiology.

However, it seems the same exact argument could be made about the use of private cars (or seasonal flu, for that matter). In 2016, there were 181,384 casualties on Britain’s roads, including 1,792 deaths. Many of these victims will have been entirely blameless road users – cyclists, pedestrians and others – who just happened to get hit by a careless driver. 

What’s more, according to a 2012 paper published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, emissions from road transport cause 4,900 early deaths in Britain every year, and that’s not even counting the impact on conditions like asthma. How would Richard Dawkins put it?

You can argue over whether buses, trains and bicycles etc are convenient. What you can NOT argue is that you are personally entitled to drive a car as a matter of individual liberty. You risk other lives as well as your own. It’s just elementary transportology.

Of course, someone might say that 7,000 deaths from car accidents and emissions is a lot less than the number who would have died from COVID-19 in the absence of lockdowns – so the analogy doesn’t really work. There are several responses to this.

First, the average age of those who die in car accidents is much younger than the average age of those who die of COVID-19, meaning that each fatal car accident takes away more total life-years. And in any case, there’s not much evidence that lockdown did prevent a large number of deaths.

Second, even if lockdowns could have prevented a lot of deaths in the early months of the pandemic, the situation now is completely different. In fact, the age-standardised mortality rate in the first five months of 2021 was actually lower than in 2018. 

Third, by rejecting the analogy on the grounds that 7,000 deaths is “too few” to matter, one is implicitly conceding that the externality argument isn’t an absolute. In other words, there is some level of externalities that society should tolerate, so long as the benefits to other parties are large enough. 

The question then becomes: are the externalities of COVID transmission sufficiently large relative to the benefits of personal freedom (including the freedom to attend school or operate a small business) to justify lockdown? And it’s by no means clear the answer to that question is in the affirmative.

Covid Deaths Lower Than Typical Fatalities from Influenza and Pneumonia for Past Month

Covid deaths continue to fall in England and Wales – to such an extent that the number of daily deaths from Covid for the past month has been lower than the five-year average of deaths from influenza and pneumonia. The Telegraph has the story.

For the past month daily Covid deaths in England and Wales have been lower than the typical number of people dying from the flu, data shows. 

Since late March there have been fewer Covid deaths each day than the five-year average of deaths from influenza and pneumonia, which normally stood at 86 during the months of March and April, according to preliminary figures published by the ONS. 

As of the week ending April 16th, there have been on average 29 daily deaths where Covid was mentioned on the victim’s death certificate, as opposed to an average of 80 involving influenza and pneumonia at the same point in the years between 2015 and 2019.

While Covid deaths are now lower, the data also shows how they massively surpassed typical flu deaths during the worst days of the second wave, and continued to remain significantly higher over a month into England’s third national lockdown. 

On January 19th there were 1,372 deaths mentioning Covid on the death certificate, a tenfold increase on the average number of flu deaths at that time of year of 133.

Even a month later by February 19th Covid daily deaths stood at 407, four times higher than the five-year average of influenza and pneumonia deaths of 107 at the same time of year.

The ONS data also reveals the extent to which the spread of Covid has now been brought to heel, with the country’s top epidemiologists claiming the coronavirus has moved to manageable “endemic” levels. 

Not only that – even SAGE modellers have admitted that a “third Covid wave” probably won’t happen, as Toby reported here.

The Telegraph’s report is worth reading in full.

Number of Weekly Covid Deaths in England and Wales at Lowest Level in Six Months

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the number of weekly Covid-related deaths has fallen to the lowest level since last October. There has been a particular fall in Covid deaths in the 70-and-over age group, a large proportion of whom have been fully vaccinated. Sky News has the story.

A total of 362 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending April 16th mentioned Covid on the death certificate, according to the ONS.

This is the lowest number since the week ending October 2nd, 2020.

The figure is also down by 4% on the previous week’s total, although the ONS said the number of deaths registered is likely to have been affected by the recent Easter bank holidays.

Around one in 29 (3.5%) of all deaths registered in England and Wales in the week to April 16th mentioned coronavirus on the death certificate.

The latest data also showed a massive 97% fall in Covid deaths in the 70-and-over age group, with 196 virus-related fatalities registered in the week ending April 9th compared with 7,049 in the week ending January 22nd.

Deaths for those aged 65 to 69 decreased by 96% during the same period, with drops of 95% for those aged 60 to 64, 94% for those aged 55 to 59, and 96% for those aged 50 to 54.

Overall, Covid deaths were down by at least 95% since the second-wave peak among people in all 50-and-over age groups, the ONS said.

Worth reading in full.

The ONS also found that almost as many people are now dying from flu and pneumonia as they are from Covid. The Mail has the story.

Flu and pneumonia are now killing almost as many people as coronavirus, official figures revealed today as the outbreak continues to fade away.

ONS analysis showed the illnesses were listed as the underlying cause of death for 265 victims in England and Wales in the week ending April 16th.

For comparison, Covid was blamed for 275 deaths.

Also worth reading in full.

How Closely Does the Trajectory of the Epidemic in Each Country Resemble a Flu Season?

We’re publishing an original piece today which is the third part in a series called ‘The Flu Hypothesis’. (You can read Part I here and Part II here.) The author, an academic economist, believes that the pattern of the Covid epidemic in each country – or region – resembles the trajectory of a seasonal flu epidemic, in some cases quite aggressive, in others quite mild. In Part III, he considers the possibility that the UK and Germany are experiencing different, flu-like epidemics and wonders whether that explains their different rates of infection.

By the end of February, I had concluded that Britain’s COVID-19 season in 2020-21 had followed an aggressive path. It had accelerated quickly and burned out early. But given that the probabilities were what they were, if the flu hypothesis had anything to it, we should have expected some other countries to have gradual rather than aggressive seasons.

This, I believe, is precisely what we are now seeing in Europe. This week Angela Merkel announced that Germany was having a “new pandemic“. Her language was nothing short of hysterical. She said that a vicious new variant had arrived that was more contagious and more deadly. Looking at the data I cannot see it. It seems more likely that Merkel is trying to deflect blame. Europe’s rollout of the vaccine has made their politicians look incompetent relative to British politicians who were until recently portrayed as bungling due to their embrace of Brexit.

Worth reading in full.