UK COVID-19 Update: COVID-19 Vaccine '90% Effective', Manufacturer Claims

Peter Russell

November 09, 2020

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

COVID-19 Vaccine Claims 90% Efficacy

A candidate SARS-CoV-2 vaccine could prevent more than 90% of people developing COVID-19, its developers claimed today.

Pfizer and BioNTech released details of the first interim efficacy analysis in a press release that hailed the results as "a great day for science and humanity".

Experts welcomed the early findings but cautioned that they were preliminary, involved a relatively small number of participants, and that phase III trials were ongoing.

The analysis evaluated 94 infections involving people with no evidence of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection in the trial that has so far enrolled 43,538 participants, 42% from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

Two doses of the vaccine are needed, three weeks apart. Protection was achieved 28 days after the first dose, Pfizer announced in its release.

It also said that the mRNA-based vaccine candidate, BNT162b2, had shown no serious safety concerns.

The company said it expected to be able to produce up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020, and up to 1.3 billion next year, subject to a successful outcome of the trial.

In July, the UK Government said it had agreed to buy 30 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech product as part of a portfolio of promising COVID-19 vaccines.

Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at the University of Oxford, described today's announcement as a "watershed moment" that had made him "smile from ear to ear".

He told the Science Media Centre that it was "a relief to see such positive results on this vaccine and [it] bodes well for COVID-19 vaccines in general".

Ian Jones, professor of virology at the University of Reading, said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine "always looked like the most bang-per-buck as it is entirely focused on the part of the virus that binds to the human cell".

Eleanor Riley, professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh, said she was "cautiously optimistic" about the findings.

She said: "The two companies are at pains to point out that the trial participants are ethnically diverse, which is good, but say nothing about the age of people in the trial. If a vaccine is to reduce severe disease and death, and thus enable the population at large to return to their normal day-to-day lives, it will need to be effective in older and elderly members of our society. 

"We also know nothing yet about the severity of cases that were seen in the trial, whether infection or infectiousness was prevented, or how long the immunity is expected to last."

Lawrence Young, professor of molecular oncology at Warwick Medical School said: "The big question is whether the vaccine can block virus infection and subsequent transmission.

"This additional data will be generated as further confirmed cases are identified and analysed.

"This trial is using an mRNA-based vaccine containing the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein combined with a lipid nanoparticle.  Almost all of the other vaccines using different technology platforms are focussing on the same virus spike protein.  So, it is likely that some of these other vaccines will also be able to prevent COVID-19."

Prof Young was among experts who pointed to logistical challenges in rolling out this particular vaccine.

"It has been reported that the vaccine requires storage at -70 degrees centigrade, and that is not necessarily routinely available in most health centres even in the UK, let alone globally," cautioned Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton.

US-based multinational Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech said they would submit data from the full phase III trial for scientific peer-review publication.

Social Media Giants Commit to Further Steps to Combat 'Antivax' Messages

The Government has taken steps to bolster uptake of any vaccination programme for COVID-19 by striking an agreement with social media companies not to spread disinformation about vaccines.

At a virtual roundtable meeting with ministers, Facebook, Twitter, and Google committed to address the growth of vaccine disinformation.

They also accepted the principle that no company should directly profit from COVID-19 disinformation.

Katy Minshall, head of UK public policy at Twitter UK, said: "We remain committed to combating misinformation about COVID-19, and continue to take action on accounts that violate our rules."

Rebecca Stimson, head of UK public policy at Facebook, said it had "directed more than 3.5 million visits to official advice from the NHS and UK Government" and would "continue to support public health efforts".

Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said they raised with social media companies concerns that misleading information posted about vaccines was remaining on sites for too long.

Ronan Harris, Google UK managing director, said it would "make sure that that content contradicting scientific consensus about the virus is swiftly removed and demonetised".

The Government said its Counter Disinformation Unit had seen "a range of false narratives about coronavirus vaccines across multiple platforms, including widespread misuse of scientific findings and baseless claims challenging the safety of vaccines or plans for their deployment".

It was reported today that GCHQ had began an offensive cyber operation to disrupt anti-vaccine propaganda being spread by some foreign countries.

A report in The Times quoted a Government source who said: "GCHQ has been told to take out antivaxers online and on social media."

The report said Russia was behind a large proportion of the disinformation about vaccines being spread in the West.

Wales Replaces 'Firebreak' Lockdown With New Rules

A new set of national measures has been introduced in Wales after a 17 day 'firebreak' ended.

The transition was accompanied by an appeal by First Minister Mark Drakeford for people to protect their families from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The lockdown, which began on 23 October, saw people told to stay home, tighter restrictions on households meeting, while pubs, restaurants, hotels, gyms, hairdressers, and non-essential shops were told to close.

The new national rules for Wales include:

  • People can only meet others who are part of their 'bubble' in their own home

  • People will be able to meet in groups of up to four in bars, cafes, and restaurants, although children under 11 are not included in the restriction

  • Up to 15 people can meet for indoor organised activities, rising to 30 for organised outdoor activities

  • Hospitality venues must not serve alcohol after 10pm, and must close at 10.20pm where the premises has an alcohol licence

  • People should avoid non-essential travel wherever possible, although there is no legal restrictions on travel within Wales for Welsh residents

  • People can only travel in and out of Wales if they have a reasonable excuse for their journey

All retail businesses, places of worship, sport and leisure facilities, and entertainment venues are now allowed to re-open.

Mr Drakeford acknowledged the "hard work and sacrifices" by people in Wales during the lockdown. He said: "We all need to think about our own lives and what we can all do to keep our families safe. We need to stop thinking about the maximum limit of rules and regulations.

"Coronavirus is a highly infectious virus – it thrives on contact between people. To keep each other safe we need to reduce the number of people we have contact with and the amount of time we spend with them."

Wales' lockdown ended just days after England's four-week lockdown began.

Tougher Measures Announced on Variant COVID-19 Linked to Danish Mink Farms

The Government reinforced measures on Sunday to prevent the potential spread of a variant strain of COVID-19 linked to mink farms in Denmark.

The move came after health officials said the new strain showed decreased sensitivity against antibodies. Health officials are concerned that the variant strain might lower the effectiveness of novel vaccines.

Denmark was removed from the UK's travel corridors list on Friday, with effect from 4am on Saturday.

The latest move prevents non-UK resident HGV drivers who have travelled through Denmark in the last 14 days from entering the UK.

At the same time, all passenger vessels and accompanied freight from Denmark are unable to land or dock at English ports.

Anyone who has arrived from Denmark within the last two weeks must self-isolate along with their households, the Department for Transport said.

Diabetes Diagnoses Down in Pandemic First Wave

New diagnoses of type 2 diabetes in England were 70% down in April 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic, compared with expected rates, according to a study preprint.

Researchers estimated there were more than 45,000 missed or delayed diagnoses for type 2 diabetes across the UK.

Overall, data from between March and July 2020 showed the rate of diagnosis for type 2 diabetes in English GP practices was reduced by 46%, with smaller reductions of 37% in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Mortality rates in people with type 2 diabetes in England were more than twice as high compared with previous trends, researchers from the University of Manchester said.

The findings were based on 23 million patient records drawn from 1709 UK general practices.

The study authors said they wanted to publish their results as "a matter of urgency" before peer review.

Nikki Joule, policy manager at Diabetes UK, said: "These shocking results highlight the urgent need to ensure that those identified by their GP as being at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes receive their annual screening for diabetes.

COVID-19 Drone Delivery Project Receives Funding

Innovators behind projects to use drones to deliver PPE and COVID-19 testing kits are among a group of businesses receiving a share of Government money.

The Department for Business said 20 winning ideas would receive a share of £7.35 million.

One consortium to be awarded a share of the cash aims to use unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver PPE and Covid-19 testing kits to vulnerable, rural communities in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

In total, £33.5 million from the Future Flight Challenge will be available to support promising initiatives.

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


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