UK COVID-19 Update: Pfizer Jab for 12-15s Approved, 'Delta' Variant Dominant 

Tim Locke

June 04, 2021

These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about today.

Pfizer Jab for 12-15s

The MHRA has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for use in 12-15 year olds.

Chief Executive, Dr June Raine, said: "We have carefully reviewed clinical trial data in children aged 12 to 15 years and have concluded that the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective in this age group and that the benefits of this vaccine outweigh any risk.

"We have in place a comprehensive safety surveillance strategy for monitoring the safety of all UK-approved COVID-19 vaccines and this surveillance will include the 12- to 15-year age group.

"No extension to an authorisation would be approved unless the expected standards of safety, quality and effectiveness have been met."

Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of the Commission on Human Medicines said: "Over 2000 children aged 12-15 years were studied as part of the randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trials. There were no cases of COVID-19 from 7 days after the second dose in the vaccinated group, compared with 16 cases in the placebo group. In addition, data on neutralising antibodies showed the vaccine working at the same level as seen in adults aged 16-25 years. These are extremely positive results."

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) hasn't yet advised on whether this age group will be vaccinated.

Long COVID

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data show an estimated 1 million people in private households in the UK have self-reported long COVID symptoms.

Of these, 376,000 first had, or suspected they had, COVID-19 at least a year earlier.

The symptoms adversely affected day-to-day activities for 650,000 people, these were limited a lot for 192,000.

The most common symptoms were fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle ache, and difficulty concentrating.

Long COVID was more prevalent in females, 35 to 69 year olds, people living in deprived areas, health or social care workers, and those with another activity-limiting health condition or disability. Prevalence was lowest in people of an Asian ethnic background.

Infection Survey

ONS infection survey data show signs of increasing infections and estimate that in the week to 29 May:

  • In England, 1 in 640 people had COVID-19

  • In Scotland, 1 in 680 people had COVID-19

  • In Wales, 1 in 1050 people had COVID-19

  • In Northern Ireland, 1 in 800 people had COVID-19

Sarah Crofts from ONS said: "Our figures today show a mixed picture across the UK. Although infections remain low, the percentage of those testing positive for COVID-19 has increased slightly in England and we are seeing early signs of an increase in Wales. The trends are uncertain in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

"We are also seeing an increase in England in the percentage of cases compatible with the Delta variant first identified in India."

The latest R number for England is now 1.0 to 1.2. Last week it was between 1 and 1.1.

The growth rate is 0% to +3% per day.

'Delta' Variant Dominant 

The 'delta' SARS-CoV-2 variant, also known as B1.617.2, first detected in India, is now the dominant variant in the UK, Public Health England (PHE) confirmed.

PHE said there's early evidence it may carry an increased risk of hospitalisation with 278 people with the variant attending A&E this week and 94 people admitted. The majority of these patients had not been vaccinated.

The most affected areas are Bolton, and Blackburn with Darwen.

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Paul Hunter, professor in medicine, UEA, said: "I think we need to be a little cautious about assuming that the delta (Indian) variant is intrinsically more virulent than the alpha (Kent) variant."

He added:  "It is not clear from the technical briefing document whether the relative increase in risk of hospitalisation was similar in people who have had no, one or two doses of vaccine."
 

Vaccine Antibodies

People who've had the Pfizer/BioNTech jab have lower antibody levels targeting the delta variant than those against previous circulating variants, according to a research letter in The Lancet.

Emma Wall, UCLH infectious diseases consultant and senior clinical research fellow for the study, said: "The most important thing is to ensure that vaccine protection remains high enough to keep as many people out of hospital as possible. And our results suggest that the best way to do this is to quickly deliver second doses and provide boosters to those whose immunity may not be high enough against these new variants."

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Professor Deborah Dunn-Walters, chair of the British Society for Immunology COVID-19 taskforce, said: "This new information highlights the importance of monitoring emerging strains of the virus and how well the vaccines protect against them. At this time, it shows that two doses of vaccine are critical for protection and therefore supports the JCVI updated guidance to decrease the time interval between vaccine doses to 8 weeks for people over 50 or who are clinically vulnerable."

Vaccine Hesitancy

Data from 15 countries in a report led by Imperial found that concerns about side effects and safety are holding some people back from having COVID-19 vaccination.

People in the UK trusted vaccines the most (87%) while South Korea and Japan were at the other end of the scale (47%).

Most people in the UK showed little preference for the brand of vaccine they'd receive.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca jab was the UK's most trusted vaccine in the under 65s in March but confidence has since declined across all age groups.

Project co-lead, Sarah Jones, said: "Our findings show that there is still much work to be done to reassure the public of the safety and effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines. We hope that sharing the concerns people have raised will spur timely and targeted responses from governments that will inform and educate the public about the importance of vaccination."

Neurological and Psychiatric Symptoms 

Fatigue and depression are common in people with coronavirus, including in mild cases, according to a meta-analysis of 215 studies published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

The most common neurological and psychiatric symptoms were:

  • Anosmia (43%)

  • Weakness (40%)

  • Fatigue (38%),

  • Dysgeusia (37%)

  • Myalgia (25%)

  • Depression (23%)

  • Headache (21%)

  • Anxiety (16%)

Lead author Dr Jonathan Rogers, University College London, said: "We had expected that neurological and psychiatric symptoms would be more common in severe COVID-19 cases, but instead we found that some symptoms appeared to be more common in mild cases. It appears that COVID-19 affecting mental health and the brain is the norm, rather than the exception."

Prior Infection

A first infection with COVID-19 substantially reduces the risk of further infection for up to 10 months at least, according to a UCL study of care home residents and staff published in Lancet Healthy Longevity.

The risk reduction was 85% for residents and 60% for staff.

Lead author, Dr Maria Krutikov, said: "The fact that prior COVID-19 infection gives a high level of protection to care home residents is also reassuring, given past concerns that these individuals might have less robust immune responses associated with increasing age."

Welsh Lockdown Changes

Wales is allowing larger outdoor events, and allowing more extended households to mix from Monday. This is part of a phased move to alert Level 1.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: "The emergence of the delta variant shows the pandemic is not over yet."

He added: "We will review the public health situation again in a couple of weeks to see whether we can continue to relax the restrictions and restart indoor events."

More News

  • New data from Great Ormond Street Hospital, published in Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, suggest there are few organ-specific sequelae at 6 months in children who experienced paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome temporally associated with SARS-CoV-2 (PIMS-TS), but physical re-conditioning, poor exercise tolerance and mental health continue to be concerns.

  • A coalition including Doctors' Association UK (DAUK) is threatening legal action over the General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) scheme it calls a "data grab". The programme is designed to collect data to support research on conditions such as COVID-19. DAUK GP, Dr Rosie Shire, said: "DAUK supports safe, consensual uses of patient data, including for health research. But we want to see it done in a way that keeps faith with patient trust and won’t erode the relationship between clinician and doctor."

  • The decision to move Portugal to the 'amber' travel list from 'green' was confirmed yesterday. Wales' Health Minister, Eluned Morgan, said: "Our message is clear – this is the year to holiday at home. We’re calling on people to only travel overseas for essential reasons." England's Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News the decision on Portugal gives more time to research a new 'Nepal variant' that's believed to be spreading there.

  • UK filming on Tom Cruise's Mission Impossible 7 has been halted due to a positive COVID-19 test picked up during routine testing.

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

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