UK COVID-19 Update: Oxford Vaccine Confusion, Fauci's MHRA Apology

Tim Locke

December 04, 2020

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

Oxford Vaccine Confusion

Reuters reported a difference of opinion between AstraZeneca and an Oxford University scientist on how the half dose, full dose approach giving the most favourable results came about.

AstraZeneca's Mene Pangalos had said the initial half-dose jab was given inadvertently to some trial participants, which was described as "serendipity".

However, Professor Adrian Hill, director of Oxford's Jenner Institute now says it was a conscious decision by researchers to administer a lower dose. "There had been some confusion suggesting that we didn’t know we were giving a half dose when we gave it - that is really not true," he told the news agency.

Fauci's MHRA Apology

Yesterday we reported on how Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases seemed to criticise the MHRA's rapid vaccine approval, saying: "The UK did not do it as carefully and they got a couple of days ahead."

Later he told the BBC: "Our process is one that takes more time than it takes in the UK. And that's just the reality.

"I did not mean to imply any sloppiness even though it came out that way."

SAGE Papers

The latest papers released by the SAGE expert Government scientific advisers discuss the length of time a person may be immune from coronavirus after vaccination or natural infection. It could be as short as 3 months.

"The length of immunity conferred by natural infection or vaccination is currently not known," they write.

"Waning immunity is believed to partly underlie the propensity for other coronaviruses to reinfect after 1-2 years. Studies on MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV found waning antibody levels over this time period. Reinfections with seasonal coronaviruses occurs frequently at 12 months, sometimes as early as 6 months but not within 3 months.

"Therefore, based on the variability in the data and differential responses in the population we conservatively estimate that a protective immune response after SARS-CoV-2 infection or vaccination may last for 90 days (moderate confidence)."

Vaccine Damage Payments Scheme

COVID-19 will be added as a "precautionary step" to the list of diseases covered for potential liabilities under the Vaccine Damage Payments Scheme (VDPS), the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

VDPS is not a compensation scheme but provides a one-off £120,000 tax-free payment to those experiencing severe disability.

To qualify for payments, DHSC said: "It must be accepted, on the balance of probability, that there is a causal link between the vaccine and the claimed disability and that the resulting disability amounts to severe (ie at least 60%) disablement."

ZOE App

King’s College London researchers have reported in The Lancet Public Health how the ZOE COVID Symptom Study App can give accurate estimates of COVID-19 prevalence and incidence, and identify infection hotspots.

Joint first author Dr Mark Graham said: "The data accurately predicted many of the hotspots that were significantly affected by the second wave, including detecting Leicester in June which then became the first region to be placed under local lockdown. In mid-July they detected many regions around Manchester, which was also placed under local restrictions in late July. The data will also likely prove valuable for detecting regional hotspots if we experience a third wave after lockdown is eased."

Latest Data

The UK's R number has dipped again and is now 0.8-1.0 down from 0.9-1.0 last week.

The growth rate is -3% to -1% per day.

Latest Office for National Statistics infection survey data show England's positivity rate has decreased between 22 and 28 November 2020. ONS estimates 521,300 people had coronavirus, equating to around 1 in 105 people.

There were estimated to be 4.71 new infections for every 10,000 people per day, equating to around 25,700 new cases per day.

Katherine Kent from ONS commented: "We can now see evidence that the overall level of infection is declining in England. Rates now seem to be declining in all age groups and all regions across England apart from the North East."

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, and University of Oxford, said: "It is clear that on a national level, the lockdown has had the predicted effect."

However, he cautioned: "It is important for us to think about what will happen to the numbers over Christmas."

He added: "By the middle to end of next week, US data will tell us what happened to infections over Thanksgiving."

Scotland is showing early signs of a decline in positivity rates with an estimated 40,900 people having COVID-19,  equating to 1 in 130 people.

In Wales, the percentage of people testing positive is no longer decreasing with 18,100 people having coronavirus, equating to 1 in 170 people.

Northern Ireland, positivity continued to decrease with 9500 people having COVID-19, equating to 1 in 190 people.

In today's daily data another 16,298 UK positive tests were reported and 504 deaths.

There are 14,917 COVID-19 patients in hospital and 1261 ventilator beds are in use.

Lockdown Compliance

Most people think they're complying with lockdown rules better than everyone else, according to the ongoing UCL COVID-19 Social Study.

  • 92% grade their own compliance as better than what they believe the population average is.

  • ‘Majority’ compliance or higher with England's second lockdown is above 90%, while ‘complete’ compliance is 46-49%.

Lead author, Dr Daisy Fancourt, commented: "It is concerning that people consistently assume they are obeying the rules more than the average person.

"This could be due to individuals making excuses for their own infringements while assuming others have no good reason to be breaking the rules, or just the tendency to notice rule-breaking among others without taking into account the numbers of people who are abiding by restrictions."

Separate ONS social impact data show continuing high compliance with most measures:

  • 89% always or often wash hands after returning home

  • 97% use a face covering

  • 90% avoid physical contact outside their home

  • 88% always or often maintain social distancing outside support bubbles

Lockdown Measures

Wales' latest restrictions on pubs, cafes, and restaurants begin today. They now have to close by 6pm apart from takeaways and are not allowed to serve alcohol.

Wales also announced routine lateral flow testing (LFT) of asymptomatic frontline health and social care staff will begin this month. Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, said: "While LFTs are not as sensitive as lab-based RT-PCR tests, scientific advice has indicated that by testing more frequently with LFTs their accuracy is on a par with RT-PCR tests."

An update to international travel rules sees self-isolation waived for people "undertaking specific business activity which would deliver a significant benefit to the UK economy".

The guidance continues: "Individuals will only be exempt when undertaking the specific business activity and will only be able to meet with others as required by that specific activity."

Global Role

The founding Chief Executive of Public Health England (PHE), Professor Duncan Selbie, has been elected as the next president of the International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI).

"The global response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented and the response on a scale we have never before seen in living memory," he said in a news release.

"Public health experts have never been more important to the health of their people and their local economies. We have a huge opportunity and responsibility to share our knowledge and learn from each other, ultimately strengthening global health security. IANPHI have a leading role to play in this."

PHE is due to be replaced by a new body called the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP).

Hand Sanitiser Warning

The consumer group Which? has found some hand sanitisers sold on online marketplaces contain a fraction of the claimed amount of alcohol, potentially leaving users at risk.

One product on eBay promised 75% alcohol content but actually contained 10%. The listing has now been pulled.

To be effective against coronavirus, 60%-90% alcohol content is required.

Natalie Hitchins from Which? said in a news release: "It’s extremely concerning that hand sanitisers readily available on online marketplaces eBay and Etsy make misleading claims about alcohol content and could leave consumers unwittingly exposed to the COVID-19 virus.

"The good news is that our research shows that if you buy hand sanitiser from a known and trusted brand, it increases the chances of it doing what you need it to, but you could face more of a lottery if you are buying from lesser-known sellers on online marketplaces."

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

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