UK COVID-19 Update: Waning Immunity, Firework Warning

Tim Locke

October 27, 2020

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

Waning Immunity

The latest data from Imperial's REACT-2 study involving 365,104 people taking home finger prick tests show coronavirus immunity wanes over time.

In a preprint, researchers found that between 20 June and 28 September the number of people testing positive for antibodies dropped from almost 6% to 4.4%.

The downward trend was seen in all areas of the country and all age groups. However, it was not seen in health workers, which the authors suggest could indicate repeated or higher initial exposure to the virus.

Study lead Professor Paul Elliott commented: "Our study shows that over time there is a reduction in the proportion of people testing positive for antibodies. Testing positive for antibodies does not mean you are immune to COVID-19. It remains unclear what level of immunity antibodies provide, or for how long this immunity lasts. If someone tests positive for antibodies, they still need to follow national guidelines including social distancing measures, getting a swab test if they have symptoms and wearing face coverings where required."

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Eleanor Riley, professor of immunology and infectious disease, University of Edinburgh, said: "It would be premature to assume that this means that immunity to SARS-CoV-2 does not last:  the study does not look at antibody concentrations, antibody function or other aspects of immunity such as T cell immunity and does not look at the trajectory of antibody levels in the same individuals over time. Nevertheless, the data do lend weight to the concern that antibodies induced by natural infection may be short-lived (as is the case for other seasonal coronaviruses)."

Meanwhile, the Oxford coronavirus vaccine has been found to produce an immune response in both young and older adults.

"It is encouraging to see immunogenicity responses were similar between older and younger adults and that reactogenicity was lower in older adults, where the COVID-19 disease severity is higher," a spokesperson for the manufacturer AstraZeneca said.

Latest Data

In today's daily data another 22,885 UK positive tests were reported and 367 deaths. Deaths can often be lower over weekends and then rise early in the week.

There are 9199 COVID-19 patients in hospital and 852 ventilator beds are in use.

Source: Gov.uk

Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, commented: "We continue to see the trend in deaths rising and it is likely this will continue for some time. Each day we see more people testing positive and hospital admissions increasing."

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data for the week ending 16 October show the number of deaths registered in England and Wales was 6.8% above the 5-year average.

'Novel coronavirus (COVID-19)' accounted for 6.4% up from 4.4% the previous week.

Hospital deaths remained below the 5-year average, while the number of deaths in private homes and care homes were above the 5-year average.

The UK's COVID-19 death toll has passed another landmark to 61,116, The Guardian reported. The figure comes from the latest ONS, Scottish, and Welsh weekly statistics, plus latest daily figures.

Separate ONS data show only around a third of those who tested positive for COVID-19 reported any evidence of symptoms at the time of their test.

Exeter University research published in Critical Care Medicine found hospital death rates among those with severe COVID-19 have dropped since the peak of the pandemic.

In late March, COVID-19 death rates were at 26% for patients admitted to high dependency units, and 41% in intensive care. In June, death rates were 7% among high dependency unit admissions, and 21% among intensive care admissions.

On Thursday Nottingham will become the latest part of England to move into the highest Tier 3 restrictions. A statement on the city council's website said: "Tighter rules are needed because cases of the virus are increasing in the city and more people are being admitted to hospital. We are seeing cases of COVID-19 across all parts of the city and among all age groups."

Blood Pressure

Having high blood pressure, and taking ACE inhibitors to treat it, is unlikely to increase entry of the COVID-19 virus into cells, according to UK and international research published in the European Heart Journal.

There were concerns due to the way the SARS-CoV-2 virus uses the ACE2 protein to infect the body.

Professor Bryan Williams from University College London commented: "The speculation about whether high blood pressure and the drugs we commonly use to treat it, increased the risks associated with COVID-19 infection caused a lot of anxiety for many millions of people treated for high blood pressure. This new research refutes the prior speculation that the drugs we commonly use to treat high blood pressure leads to an increase in the receptors for COVID-19 on the surface of the lungs. It is a really important finding."

Cognitive Deficits

A preprint from Imperial College London found many people who recovered from COVID-19 "exhibited significant cognitive deficits".

The study has not yet been peer reviewed and was carried out by analysing cognitive test data from 84,285 Great British Intelligence Test participants who self-reported COVID-19 infection.

The authors write: "They were of substantial effect size for people who had been hospitalised, but also for mild but biologically confirmed cases who reported no breathing difficulty. Finer grained analyses of performance support the hypothesis that COVID-19 has a multi-system impact on human cognition."

Commenting, Dr David Strain, senior clinical lecturer, University of Exeter, expressed caution over the results: "Only a tiny fraction had a positive COVID test. There is likely, therefore, to be some uncertainty about the reliability of the information about severity of symptoms."

He added: "It is not clear whether the impaired cognition was permanent or not – it is well documented that many COVID symptoms can last months after the end of the serious part of the illness, and any cognitive deficit may eventually be reversed. Also, there is no comparison with people who suffer from other respiratory illnesses like flu – is this long-term effect on cognition different from flu?"

Firework Concerns

With many organised firework displays cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions, plastic and reconstructive surgeons are urging people not to set off their own fireworks.

British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons polling found 37% of people were thinking of having home bonfire events this year with concerns this could reverse the recent decline in A&E attendance with firework injuries.

BAPRAS President Mark Henley said in a statement: "Every November, plastic surgeons across the UK witness serious injuries caused by fireworks, with many patients requiring multiple rounds of complex reconstructive surgery. With the NHS stretched to capacity due to COVID-19 and a huge backlog for surgical procedures, we simply cannot afford for an increase in preventable injuries and urge people to think twice before purchasing fireworks for personal use."

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

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