UK COVID-19 Update: Jab 'Likely' to Protect Against New Variant

Tim Locke

December 22, 2020

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

Jab 'Likely' to Protect Against New Virus Variant

BioNTech Chief Executime Ugur Sahin said today that the company has confidence the vaccine will be effective against the new virus variant: "The likelihood that our vaccine works," he said, "is relatively high."

He told Germany's Bild TV that the company would be investigating the virus variant and viewed the matter with "with a degree of soberness".

The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention is advising close monitoring to check vaccination efficacy related to the new variant. Laboratories should also review PCR test performance, it said.

Yesterday the EU medicines regulator approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine with countries planning to start vaccination as early as 27 December.

UK Vaccination

On Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said 350,000 people across the UK have now had the first dose of the vaccine. By yesterday that had risen to more than 500,000, though no further details were given of numbers within the priority groups.

Member polling by Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) found 70% of more than 1000 frontline staff did not know when they'd receive the jab.

DAUK has also written to England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock over concerns that PPE guidance has not been updated to match the increased transmissibility of the new virus variant.

Dr Zainab Najim, DAUK secretary and a GP registrar, commented: "Without a universal policy to vaccinate frontline patient-facing staff as a priority, and no review of current PPE guidance, we could be facing avoidable staff sickness and absence over the already difficult winter months. We are also concerned that, without escalating the current PPE guidelines, staff themselves will be at risk of not only contracting the virus but passing it onto the vulnerable patient population."

The BMA has also raised concerns with NHS England that "administration of the vaccine to healthcare workers is not equal across the NHS".

It has also received reports that doctors with underlying health conditions are not being prioritised for jabs.

Borders Blocked

The border with France remains closed for passengers and lorries, and many other countries have banned travel from the UK.

France and the UK are in discussions over the testing of lorry drivers to allow road freight to move again. There are reports of disagreement over the UK's preference for rapid lateral flow testing over the slower but more accurate PCR tests.

Latest Restrictions

Northern Ireland's Government is advising against non-essential travel to and from the rest of the UK.

Greater Manchester’s directors of public health have asked anyone who has travelled to the area from Wales or England's Tier 4 to self-isolate for at least 10 days.

Last night, Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told a Downing Street news briefing: "I think it's likely...that measures will need to be increased in some places in due course and not reduced."

Military Help for Welsh Ambulance Service

Ninety four specially trained soldiers will help drive ambulances in Wales from tomorrow.

Ambulance Trust Chief Executive Jason Killens said in a statement: "The extreme pressure on our ambulance service in the last couple of weeks has been well documented, and it’s why we’ve taken the decision to re-enlist the military, who did a superb job of assisting us earlier in the year."

Latest Data

Latest weekly data from the Office for National Statistics show the number of deaths registered was 14.3% above the 5-year average in the week ending 11 December.

COVID-19 accounted for 22.4% of all deaths in England and Wales.

ONS estimates the number of deaths actually occurring (rather than registered) that week in England and Wales was between 10,924 and 13,523.

Across the UK, the number of deaths registered in that period was 13,910, which was 1625 deaths higher than the 5-year average.

Another 36,804 new daily cases of COVID-19 were announced today and a further 691 deaths following a positive test.

Diabetic Foot

Diabetes UK says doctors are reporting a rise in diabetic foot complications under lockdown.

Jodie Buckingham, lead podiatrist at Oxford University Hospitals, told the charity: "Over the past few months, I have seen for myself the sudden surge of people with diabetes and advanced foot disease being admitted to hospital or requiring the input of acute foot services. This experience is echoed by many of my colleagues around the country. Unfortunately, some people are presenting to foot care services at a point that their foot condition is so severe that they require immediate admission under surgical teams."

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

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