UCL

Professor Sir Terence Stephenson Spins His New Study to Exaggerate Long Covid and Trivialise the Impact of Lockdowns in Children

The latest findings of the world’s biggest study into ‘Long Covid’ in children and young people (CYP) – the CLoCk study from University College London – have been published as a pre-print.

Surveying 11 to 17 year-olds who tested positive for COVID-19 in England between September and March, the researchers found that the condition is not common in children and young people. This is in line with other studies into Long Covid.

As with earlier studies, symptoms were prevalent in those who tested negative as well as those who tested positive, complicating the picture of the condition which the authors acknowledge lacks clear definition.

Further confusion was sown by the fact that reported symptoms increased rather than decreased after three months, leaving the authors puzzling over the explanation.

Three months after the SARS-CoV-2 test, the presence of physical symptoms was higher than at the time of testing. This finding emphasises the importance of having a comparison group to objectively interpret the findings and derive prevalence estimates. Although 64.6% of test-positives reported no symptoms at time of testing (compared to 91.7% of test-negatives), they did not continue to remain asymptomatic, with only 33.5% of test-positives (and 46.7% of test-negatives) reporting no symptoms at three months. This finding warrants further exploration and could be due to self-selection into the study because they were experiencing on-going symptoms, recall bias, external factors relating to the pandemic such as returning to school and exposure to other sources of infection, and the actual trajectory of the illness, although this wouldn’t explain the high prevalence among test-negative CYP.

In terms of physical symptoms – tiredness, headaches, shortness of breath, loss of smell, and so on – the researchers found there was a somewhat elevated prevalence of these among the test-positive compared to the test-negative, though both had increased over the three month period.

Three months after the SARS-CoV-2 test, the presence of physical symptoms was higher than at baseline in both groups; 66.5% of test-positives and 53.4% of test-negatives had any symptoms whilst 30.3% of test-positives and 16.2% of test-negatives had 3+ symptoms. The symptom profile did not vary by age: for both 11-15 year-olds and 16-17 year-olds the most common symptoms among test-positives were tiredness, headache and shortness of breath and, among test-negatives, tiredness, headache and the unspecified category of “other”. Again, the prevalence of tiredness and headache was consistently higher in the test positives, 39.0% and 23.2% versus 24.4% and 14.2% in negatives, respectively. Prevalence was higher for 16-17 year-olds; for example, 46.4% of test-positives reported being tired compared to 29.6% of test-negatives.

The 14% difference reported here between the 30% of test-positives and the 16% of test-negatives who had three or more symptoms at three months is likely to be the study’s most accurate estimate of the prevalence of Long Covid in the sample population.

However, as the BBC’s Nick Triggle notes, the low response rate and selection bias towards the unwell in the survey may mean the true prevalence of Long Covid is more like 2%.

Britain Will Achieve Herd Immunity on Monday

According to a Telegraph exclusive, the number of people with protection either through vaccination or previous infection will hit 73.4% on April 12th – the herd immunity threshold. Sarah Knapton, the Telegraph’s Science Editor, has more.

Britain will pass the threshold for herd immunity on Monday, according to dynamic modelling by University College London (UCL), placing more pressure on the Government to move faster in releasing restrictions.

According to the UCL results, published this week, the number of people who have protection against the virus either through vaccination or previous infection will hit 73.4% on April 12th – enough to tip the country into herd immunity.

The number is in stark contrast to the modelling released by Imperial College this week, which suggested there was just 34% protection by the end of March.

Last week, antibody testing by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggested that, in the week ending March 14th, around 54% of people in England already had antibodies to the virus, and slightly less in the devolved nations.

Since then, a further 7.1 million people have received a first dose of vaccine and nearly 100,000 have tested positive for the virus, with many more acquiring a silent, asymptomatic infection.

It is thought about one in 10 people also have some innate immunity through infections with other coronaviruses – pushing population-level protection up further – while others may be immune through T-cells, which would not be picked up in antibody testing.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: At the end of this story there is a very encouraging note about the Government’s unhappiness with the models SPI-M is relying on for the latest advice it’s feeding the Government via SAGE. Interestingly, almost all the points the Government has raised are points raised by Glen Bishop and others on Lockdown Sceptics.

The Telegraph understands that the Government is unhappy with the pessimistic tone set by models produced by SPI-M, released earlier this week, and has asked other groups to critique the work. The SPI-M summary, presented to SAGE, suggested the roadmap out of lockdown was “highly likely” to lead to increased hospital cases and deaths this summer.

The models were criticised for using out of date and flawed assumptions about levels of population immunity and effectiveness of the vaccine as well as failing to factor in reductions in transmission due to vaccination and seasonality.

Prof Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford University, said: “In my 20-plus years as a doctor, I’ve never come across a summer surge in a respiratory infection in the UK. The modelling now keeps changing dramatically, so it’s hard to see how it helps us. What we really want to do is look at the real-world data and make decisions from there.

“One of the problems is nobody is going back and checking whether the modelling matched up with the reality. We know that modelling in schools has not helped us because it was incorrect. So we need to have a reality check.”

Stop Press 2: Matt Hancock has dismissed claims that herd immunity will be reached next week. The Times has the story.

[The Health Secretary] appeared unmoved by the optimistic claims. “I was told by some scientists that we were going to have herd immunity in May and then in June and then after that,” he told LBC.

“What I prefer to do is watch the data. We’ve set out the roadmap, the roadmap is really clear. It is our route back to normal. We’re on track to meet the roadmap and that is our goal.”

Pressed on why he was not accepting UCL’s claims, Hancock replied: “I think we have taken the right course in plotting our way to freedom and doing it carefully because we want it to be irreversible. We have seen what happens when this virus gets going and we are seeing it getting going right now on the continent and other parts of the world – some of the scenes are really appalling.

“We want to get out of this safely and irreversibly and that’s why we set out the roadmap.”

Also worth reading in full.