Monday 8 February 2021

UK Coronavirus Briefing 8th Feb

UK Coronavirus Briefing 8th Feb

Cases: 3,959,784 (+14,104)
Losses of life: 112,798 (+333)
In hospital: 29,326
Using a ventilator: 3,505
First dose vaccination: 12,294,006
Second dose vaccination: 512,581

Clearly there was going to be a UK briefing today, and this is a big part of why:
South Africa have suspended their rollout of the Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccine, after the new trial data from University of the Witwatersrand suggested it only reduced mild-to-moderate COVID-19 by just 22%, because of the mutations in the South African variant.
That's a real blow, other data was around the 50% 'usefulness benchmark' for reducing severe disease, hospitalisation and death against the South African variant. With a much younger average population age than the UK (SA 25 /UK  40), and a younger expected lifespan (SA 64 / UK 81) South Africa's priorities are slightly different.
UK Health Minister Edward Argar (who?) said on the telly box this morning that 147 cases of the South African variant had so far been discovered in the UK. This is with extensive local testing and actual contact tracing taking place for all known cases. 

If you are over 70 in England and don't have a vaccination appointment, contact us

UK Government Ministers are themselves in a frenzy trying to keep us calm and confident in the Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccine. Bless em, all kinds of Junior Ministers you've never heard of are scrabbling around for airtime. Popcorn anyone? 

As of this moment, the UK is absolutely rife with the UK Variant B117 - and the current Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is maybe 10% less effective against this than against First Gen original COVID, but should still prevent at least 60-75% of hospitalisations, severe disease and loss of life. Ask anyone who has lost anyone. It's well worth doing.
We also now have solid evidence the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine prevents about 50% or more of the transmission, so this will be a massive advantage to reducing case numbers, especially once we start vaccinating people who do go out!
The UK is extraordinarily unlikely to become saturated with South African Variant, because even though it's easier to catch, we are already saturated with our own more catchy variant - UK/Kent variant B117. How fortunate was that? We are also very good at genomics and tracing virus lineage, so we have a very good chance at spotting pockets of South African variant cases and crushing them. Like New Zealand did with any sort of COVID.  (We don't want to import it either - border quarantines are a very sensible idea.)

The World Health Organisation are meeting today to discuss what to do next. The vast majority of COVAX vaccines are Oxford/AstraZeneca, and similar results are likely wherever the E484K mutation is likely to become the main variant - this includes a lot of South America and Southern Africa. Some countries are also reluctant to use it on older people until we know for sure exactly how effective it is in the over 65's (they don't want to waste vaccines, time and effort - more data will be along any minute)
Oxford say tweaked vaccines and/or boosters to cover for E484K will be ready by Autumn.
That pesky E484K mutation has now appeared independently several times, we will no doubt see it again, and it needs to be addressed. 

UK Coronavirus Data sheet for 8th feb

Soooo, Matt Hancock our Health Minister got the short straw, and with him Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jon Van Damme Tam, and Nikki Kanani of NHS England. I admit I'm disappointed. I hoped for Chris Whitty because he gets so agitated when he has something he desperately wants to say, and interrupts and shouts out. Rebel...

Matt started with the slides / data.
We still have 29,326 people in hospital - far higher than the first peak, or the November peak.
We have lost 841 people on average each day over the past week.
It's exactly 2 months since Margaret Keenan was the first person in the world to be vaccinated with a clinically authorised vaccine.
Almost 1 in 4 of all UK adults have been vaccinated.
UK has a very positive attitude to vaccination. Take up was expected to be around 75%.
Among the over 80's we've now given a first dose to 91%.
Among those aged 75-79, we've given a first dose to 95%
Almost 3/4 of those 70-74 have had a first dose.
Every eligible care home has been visited, and all staff and residents vaccinated. Take up among care home resident is 93%.
"Vaccines save lives. They protect you, and there's increasing evidence they protect those around you too."(absolutely true - around 50%!)

Within 1 week everyone in the top 4 priority groups will have been offered a vaccination. We want to make sure we reach EVERYONE. Until now, you needed to wait to be contacted, but now if you are OVER 70, the message is changing:
If you live in England and are 70 or over, and have not yet got an appointment to be vaccinated, then please contact the NHS.
The easiest way is through the National Booking Service online at NHS dot UK or by calling 119, or by speaking to your GP practise. 
If you are in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you will also be offered a vaccination by 15th Feb - your local health team will be in touch with you.

Test and trace is completing 4.5m tests a week, returning 97% of in-person tests the next day. Contact Tracing is reaching 97% of contacts they are given, and 98% are contacted within 24 hours. (MASSIVE improvement - well done - finally!)

We are building onshore / domestic capability. Derby based manufacturer SureScreen will be making 20m rapid-flow tests. (This is the first UK manufacturer of testing equipment I think.) They'll be used in the asymptomatic routine testing, such as in workplaces, schools, NHS roles etc.
From today all businesses with more than 50 employees, in sectors currently open, can apply for regular rapid testing. (I think they actually launched that on Friday?) This is currently free of charge.

Now the important bit. He talks about variants and says we do expect them. We change the flu vaccine annually. The UK has provided almost half of the genomic sequencing of COVID worldwide (true - world-beating). We have found variants quickly because of this.

- The existing vaccines have some effect against new variants, particularly against serious disease and death - so vaccines are still 'mission-critical'.
- We are working on Booster Jabs targeted specifically at new variants
- We are 'building onshore capacity' - basically making our own stuff rather than relying on imports
- We have entered into a partnership with CureVac to be able to swiftly tweak vaccines to cope with new variants. We've ordered 50m doses, and want to make them in the UK.

"Of course, the fewer new cases of coronavirus that we have, the lower the chance of a new variant appearing domestically. So the essential message to Stay At Home, and Follow The Social Distancing Rules is our best defence right now."

"The number of people in hospital is still far too high, but it is falling. The number of people who are dying from this disease is also far too high, but that is falling too. We are turning a corner against this coronavirus. The vaccine rollout is going well, and if you are aged 70 and over,  and haven't been contacted yet, please get in touch now."

Nikki Kanani talked about historic moments, and the weather making things tricky, but everyone still making it happen.
She says they will go back to vaccinate people who were unwell, or not ready, when the teams arrived to vaccinate. You should be contacted and offered the vaccination again.
Nikki repeats that anyone in the top 4 priority groups in England can contact the NHS themselves if you haven't heard anything - we want to catch everyone.

Jon adds his thanks to all vaccination teams of staff and volunteers.
He says the South African variant B351 is now dominant in South Africa - causing most of their cases. it is NOT our dominant virus. Ours is B117. He explains that it seems both variants are equally catchy/ transmissible, and there's no reason to think B351 will take over here.
Our current vaccines ARE effective against our current virus. Protect yourself against the clear and present danger.
Looking ahead, several vaccine manufacturers have found their vaccines are still substantially effective at preventing serious illness, even if infections aren't prevented. The Astra Zeneca vaccine is pretty similar in Jon's eyes. I agree. It's what I take away from the figures too. 

There is no point waiting for a 'new vaccine', not when the vaccine we have is very effective against what we currently have, and should still in most cases prevent serious disease or death in the foreseeable future. 

UK Coronavirus Briefing 8th Feb

Public asked is it likely a 'booster' will be required in Autumn. Jon said you can move quickly to adapt a vaccine (about 6 weeks), but they have to have small scale testing to check they work. Boosters are likely in the future, but we shouldn't need any additional booster this Autumn. The vaccines we have will be effective enough.

First press literally asked about the South African B351 taking over. Jon explained that already. They did discuss media sensationalism. I've explained everything here to you guys before, and I don't believe I've ever used multiple exclamation marks. Yes, it isn't the best news, but it's entirely expected, and we were as ready as we could be for it. 

Second press asked a billion questions about variants. 147 of the B351 variant cases have been located in the UK. There have been no new cases in the last 2 days. We currently can't possibly sequence every case, but as cases go down, we'll be able to do a bigger percentage, and eventually sequence every case. 
She asked if we are attempting to eradicate COVID, or are we going to live with it for years to come? Matt said of course we'd all love to get rid of it. He doesn't appear to believe it's likely or possible and talks about annual flu jabs. Jon backs him by talking about relieving pressure on hospitals via immunisation. So that's a strong NO, YES. We knew, but damn. 

Matt refused point blank to speculate on any relaxation of measures. The 'Roadmap' out of lockdown will be published on 22nd February. 

Press asked if border controls will get stricter when case numbers come down here? And lots of theoretical about holidays in the UK or abroad this Summer. Matt reminds her the numbers of people entering the UK are still very low, it's illegal to leave or enter without good reason. Jon says restrictions will be released gradually, and it'll rely on the virus, the vaccine, and adherence to restrictions. The more complex your plan, the more likely you are stepping into the unknown. It's too early to say. 

Press asked about any more areas having cases of B351. Matt says no, it's only in the postcodes and areas mentioned last week and now subject to enhanced testing, and not spreading as far as we can see. Good stuff. Fingers crossed it stays that way... 

Back with the usual report tomorrow... have a good evening! 

Vaccinations again, so you don't have to find it:
If you live in England and are 70 or over, and have not yet got an appointment to be vaccinated, then please contact the NHS.
The easiest way is through the National Booking Service online at NHS dot UK or by calling 119, or by speaking to your GP practise.

If you are in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you will also be offered a vaccination by 15th Feb - your local health team will be in touch with you.


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