Monday 1 February 2021

UK Coronavirus Briefing 1st Feb 2021 (and some UK background news).

UK Briefing 1st Feb 2021 (and some UK background news).
Cases 3,835,783 (+18,607)
Losses of Life 106,564 (+406)
In hospital 34,783 (28th Jan)
Using a ventilator 3,832 (29th Jan)

11 people in the UK with no known travel links have tested positive for the South African variant. This is similar to the UK's more transmissible variant, but may possibly be more resistant to vaccines, so we don't really want it to spread any further while we check that one out. It affects 8 postcode areas:
W7, N17 and CR4 in London
WS2 in Walsall
ME15 in Kent
EN10 in Hertfordshire
GU21 in Surrey and
PR9 in Lancashire.
Local residents will be offered door-to-door testing whether they have symptoms or not, and some proper contact tracing is underway.
Matt Hancock has expressed an urge to eradicate this from the UK asap (and everyone else in the world agrees). 

010221 vaccinations today

We have started vaccinating, and mixing together COVID and vaccinations means only the really resilient and robust virus survives - the mutations that came out slightly different, but it turned out to be a biological advantage (like redheads making some of their own vitamin D). The South African variant looks IN A LAB like it might be up to 30-50% more resilient to some of the vaccines and antibodies people have, but without sequencing (basically a virus 'DNA test', except with virus it's 'RNA') to see exactly what happens, no-one can be certain exactly what occurs in the real world. The number of cases in the UK is currently still too huge to sequence every case - although we are legitimately world beating at this. We can do about 6% (and that'll rise as case numbers get smaller). 

The UK Government have announced they've purchased another 40m doses of the Valneva vaccine. In total we have orders for 100m doses, and they will be made in the Livingston plant in Scotland. This brings our total 'portfolio' to 407m doses of vaccines in hand or on order.
Most vaccines require 2 doses, and the UK population is 68m. Many of those 68m are children under 16, or unable to be vaccinated due to existing conditions. Can you see why Europe and others are getting a bit "I hope you aren't stockpiling vaccines Boris"?...
I don't believe we are - yet - I think we are ensuring repeat vaccinations will be in place when we need them, and attempting to future-proof against variants, as well as building up capacity for manufacture in the UK. Many of our orders won't be ready for delivery until late this year or next. 

The UK Briefing was with Health Secretary Matt Hancock, and he was joined by NHS England’s Professor Stephen Powis and Public Health England’s Dr Susan Hopkins.
Matt started by giving us vaccine update news. Up until midnight last night, we had vaccinated 9,296,367 people with their first dose (it's really impressive). 494,209 people have had both doses.
The UK carried out 931,204 vaccinations just this last weekend - 1 in every 60 adults in the UK in a single weekend. Awesome job.
Almost 9/10 people over 80, and over 1/2 of people in their 70's have been vaccinated.
EVERY eligible care home in England has now been visited and all staff and residents offered vaccinations.
He thanks EVERYONE who has made this possible - you are all stars. Seriously, well done. 

Matt talks about the extra 40m doses of Valneva's vaccine ordered for next year. It hasn't yet got regulatory approval, but despite the fact he talks of a 'no regrets attitude', I can't imagine Matt would be buying so much if it didn't look good. (Phase 3 trials should bring solid data in about 3 months.)
He says we are building a vaccine manufacturing capability across the UK, and refers to the Livingston plant. 

Matt starts to talk about 'international partners', and then addresses them directly:
"Of course I'm delighted about how well this is going at home, but I believe fundamentally that the vaccine rollout is a global effort.
One of the many reasons that I'm so happy with the AstraZeneca contract, is that it not just gives us a strong supply here, but because it is the only vaccine currently being deployed, that is available to the whole world at cost.
And because it's logistically straightforward, it can be practically deployed to the poorest parts of the world too. So we will protect UK supply, AND we'll play our part to ensure the whole world can get the jab."
I am genuinely so proud of the UK for this. The Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine costs well under a fiver a person to produce. In India it is costing the Government £2 per dose, and being sold privately for around £4 per dose. It IS affordable to everyone.
....And very patently this is also Matt responding to criticism from Europe and beyond, over the potential for the UK to be stockpiling vaccines. Basically he seems to be  saying "leave us alone, we've given you enough already". 

UK vaccine portfolio 010221

Matt talks about our fabulous genetic sequencing. He says a mutation in any part of the world is a threat anywhere. This is an introduction to talking about the South African variant.
We have now identified 105 cases in the UK, including the 11 which don't have links to international travel. They live in 8 different areas and don't seem to be linked. Govt/NHS are attempting to trace the origins, and it's likely they all caught it from someone who was asymptomatic. People within the postcodes listed above MUST STAY AT HOME and GET A TEST. Enhanced contact tracing and testing is happening, and all positive cases will be sequenced to find out which variant they are (if any). It's vital anyone with symptoms isolates. Be extra cautious over social distancing and hand-washing etc.

There is already a national lockdown in place, you shouldn't travel unless it's essential, and you should stay local. This is especially important in the South African variant postcode areas - "If you are in an area where the new variant has been found, then stay at home and lets get this new variant totally under control."

Matt reminds us this is no time to let things slip, we have to remain alert - wherever we are. 

Public asked about the 2 vaccine doses. Matt assures her everyone will get their 2nd dose as planned. The rollout is happening at mass scale, and Matt is still confident everyone eligible in the first 4 groups (care home staff and residents, NHS frontline, everyone over 70 and extremely clinically vulnerable people) will be offered at least their first dose of vaccine by 15th February.

Public asked why unpaid carers are in group 6 for vaccine priority, but paid carers are in group 2, so have had their jabs already. (Several of you have asked this too!)
The groups have been decided by a panel, the JCVI, "to give greatest benefit to those at highest risk of greatest consequence" says Steve.
Press also asked about this too, and pointed out that unpaid carers are often not at lowest risk themselves. They can be terrified they'll catch COVID and die - and leave their vaccinated person without care.
Matt and Steve didn't offer much. (They're not going to change their minds.)

Press asked if the panel have been vaccinated yet? Neither Susan or Steve are currently on any frontline shifts, so they have not, and nor has Matt. Susan's husband is frontline NHS, so he has. 

Press question about schools was given short shrift. Matt says they closed schools with a heavy heart, and they'll be the first thing to reopen - but we still have over 10,000 more people in hospital than at the height of the first peak last Spring. Nope. They're not reopening yet. 

Matt says he wants to 'put to bed a myth about fair share' of vaccine - all parts of the UK are receiving it as per need. Supply is naturally bumpy, but it's well spread across all 4 nations.
Some areas (e.g the North East) have performed amazingly well, but if there were real discrepancies in allocation, I don't think we'd have such a high percentage of people vaccinated overall. 

Susan answered the last press question and reiterated what I said at the beginning. Mutations will occur, but we want to avoid already mutated variants mutating again. The vaccines may only be 60% effective against the South African variant (but as always, it's really hard to tell what will happen in real life). That is still well above the 50% benchmark for usefulness, but not as good as the 90% or more for the UK variant and original COVID.

Matt finished the briefing by reiterating that new variants are expected. We tweak the flu jab every year. If we end up having to vaccinate regularly for COVID, we are building up the capability, so we are preparing for that eventuality. In the meantime, if you get the offer to book your jab - do it.

Back with the regular report tomorrow... 


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