Wednesday 17 March 2021

UK COVID Briefing with Hancock 17th March 2021

Well, I did complain yesterday that I thought it was awful they hadn't bothered...

Cases: 4,274,579 (+5,758)
Losses of Life: 125,831 (+141)
In hospital: 7,218 (15th March)
Using a Ventilator: 968 (16th March)
First Vaccination: 25,273,226
Second vaccination: 1,759,445

The Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine is continuing to make headlines, mainly with the WHO and other health bodies continuing to insist that even if we do prove a link between the cases of blood clotting and vaccination, that miniscule risk (7 in 5 million) is massively overshadowed by the actual risk if you catch COVID - however young and healthy you are. No link has yet been proven, investigations are ongoing.

The EU have threatened to restrict vaccine exports to any countries which have already achieved a high rate of vaccination - clearly this includes the UK.
This is not the first time this threat has been made, and it's understandable.
Cases are rising across Europe and some countries are having a real nightmare - Paris is rumoured to be running out of hospital beds, and Italy are reporting 20,000+ new cases a day. The EU received only a portion of the vaccines they were due in the first quarter, and only around 10% of EU citizens have yet been vaccinated. Exporting vaccines under those conditions must feel like a kick in the teeth. 

BT Tower 2 Tank you NHS banner strung around top wide section of large grey tower

This is just breaking this teatime, and these are extracts from a letter to NHS bosses. It's not good news for the UK:
"Government's Vaccines Task Force have now notified us there will be a significant reduction in weekly supply available from manufacturers beginning in week commencing 29 March, meaning volumes for first doses will be significantly constrained...They now currently predict this will continue for a four-week period, as a result of reductions in national inbound vaccines supply.... The supply constraint means vaccination centres and community pharmacy... vaccination services should close unfilled bookings from the week commencing 29 March and ensure no further appointments are uploaded... from 1 to 30 April."

Matt starts with the good news, and tells us all about the vaccine rollout, how well it's doing, how many people we're vaccinating (we can do over half a million a day). We have vaccinated almost half of the UK's adult population, 25m people.
He shows charts, and explains how many people we've vaccinated and how many lives we are saving (compared to January, about 9k per week). 
He has a chart which shows the proportion of people who test positive for antibodies - people who are protected. Around 90% of people aged 70 or over had antibodies when the data was collected 2 weeks ago.
Vaccinations are saving lives - deaths are down by 1/3 in the last week. 

Matt is stuttering sooooo badly. He knows the NHS letter (above) has just broken ahead of the press conference. The press questions are going to be hard.

Matt explains that the studies and figures are producing good data. Public Health England have found 1 dose of vaccine is preventing:
60% of cases
85% of deaths
80% of hospitalisations
If you live with someone who has been vaccinated, you have a 30% lower risk of catching COVID yourself.
"Both vaccines being rolled out in the UK are not just safe, they're make you safe. They're saving lives and protecting people."

All people aged 50 and above are invited to come in for a jab. Letters inviting you are being sent out now.
We are on track to deliver vaccinations to everyone in groups 1-9 by 15th April. We are going to try and ensure we catch everyone in vulnerable groups before we roll out to people in their 40's. Matt is 42 (he had an uphill paper round).
He talks about supplies that are 'contractually committed to people in this country". (Looks like he's ready for a fight with the EU.) 

170321 over 25 million people vaccinated in the UK

Dr Mary Ramsey, Head of Immunisation, talks about how quickly the vaccinations have taken place, and then talks more about the data Matt mentioned above. Some of the data is among over 80's, some over 70's, some from healthcare workers.
Healthcare workers who have been vaccinated show a 70% reduction in cases - with or without symptoms (they are regularly tested as standard).
She says she herself last week had the Oxford vaccine - which they are ALL calling the AstraZeneca vaccine now that it's in the news. 

Jon Van Tam has a big football analogy about tracking back and making sure we do the Phase 1 vaccinations properly before we move on to Phase 2 (age 49 or younger).
This is clearly going to help cover the fact we do have a potential shortage of supply and delay in pushing forward.
(As a 49 1/2 year old person who almost managed to book a vaccination last night, I feel like the one who didn't fit into the lift and has to start walking up the stairs.)

Jon Van Tam DOES cover the Oxford /AstraZeneca vaccine news. He explains the rarity of the blood clotting disorder cases, and that we don't have any evidence yet, and then he reads from the side effects for Paracetamol. No drug is entirely risk-free. 

On 31st March shielding will end. (No crying...)

170321 Scotland have vaccinated over 2m people. Image of bottle with COVID virus picture on label, alongside text

Press ask about the NHS letter, and the EU threat today.
Matt says supply is always bumpy, it is a standard letter, and he's still on target to vaccinate as many people over 50 as possible, with a focus on vulnerable groups.
Matt mentions the EU, then explains again that we set up supply chains, we developed the vaccine, we funded it, and we have given it to the world at cost. We ordered 100m doses, and we fully expect contractual obligations will be met. (He didn't sound entirely confident.)

Press asked about UK travel - Matt says England have covered it in the road map, and he fully expects within weeks that it will be possible. (Obviously he doesn't make the decisions regarding devolved nations.) 

Press ask again about the NHS letter and vaccine supply. Matt assures us we have enough supply to offer vaccinations to everyone over 50 by 15th April, cover 2nd doses, and we are still on track to vaccinate all UK adults by the end of July.
(I believe Matt is happy with his answers, it's going well for him. He isn't stuttering now, and he's talking with more confidence.) 

Matt and Jon both answer questions on public inquiries into mishandling of the pandemic. They both say now isn't the time, they're busy with a pandemic. 

Jon answers questions about going out and licking strangers. He explains that being vaccinated takes at least 2-3 weeks to work, and antibodies and immunity are more complex than that. Protection continues to increase, and you need your 2nd dose to ensure it lasts. You can't just behave like you used to - not just yet. (Especially if we haven't vaccinated the people who mainly go out and mix!!) Jon asks for patience until the vaccinations are complete.
"Can we just do it properly, once. So please, hold the line, just a little bit longer, and we are only talking a few more months." 

BT Tower is circular, a tube, this is the banner on the other side saying #NHSCOVIDvaccine

Clearly we ARE anticipating a bit of a blip in vaccinations, but we've had plenty of warning it might happen, and by crikey, the UK has done very well so far. The blip will mostly be blanketed over by the 'focus on catching the people we missed in the top 9 groups', and so far they still seem confident that everyone will be vaccinated by the end of July.
Some countries are still excited about their first few thousand doses arriving so that they can vaccinate frontline health care workers. I might have to wait a bit longer, but I still feel a bit privileged...

Back tomorrow with the regular report.... stay well! 


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