UK COVID-19 Update: 6.6m First Jabs, Sacked 'for Having a Beard'

Tim Locke

January 25, 2021

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

6.6m First Jabs

UK first dose vaccinations have reached 6.6m, including three quarters of over-80s.

On Saturday, 491,970 jabs were delivered, the highest daily figure so far.

New vaccination centres are opening, including at the Black Country Living Museum, where Peaky Blinders was filmed, and The Francis Crick Institute.

The BMA wrote to England's CMO Professor Chris Whitty asking for the gaps between first and second doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jabs to be halved to 6 weeks, saying: "The absence of any international support for the UK's approach is a cause of deep concern and risks undermining public and the profession's trust in the vaccination programme."

Writing in the The Sunday Telegraph, and republished by the Department for Health and Social Care, England's Deputy CMO Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said: "Some people are questioning the UK policy of trying to give as many at-risk people as possible the first dose of vaccine in the shortest possible time, inevitably extending the interval before the second dose is given.

"But what none of these (who ask reasonable questions) will tell me is: who on the at-risk list should suffer slower access to their first dose so that someone else who’s already had one dose (and therefore most of the protection) can get a second? Everyone on the JCVI priority list is at risk from this nasty virus, and vaccines just can’t be produced at an unlimited rate."

Latest SAGE papers released on Friday said there is an "increased risk of virus replication under partial immunity after one dose than after two doses, so in the short term, delaying the second dose would be expected to somewhat increase the probability of emergence of vaccine resistance – but probably from a low base".

The paper added: "Vaccine efficacy after one dose should be carefully monitored to inform future vaccine policy."

Doctors' Association UK wrote to the Government to complain about overseas NHS staff being denied jabs because they don't have NHS numbers, which it described as "unconscionable".

Variants

The UK has identified 77 cases of the South African coronavirus variant and nine of a Brazilian variant, England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at the weekend.

Moderna said today it's vaccine's neutalising antibodies appear to work against the UK and South African variants in laboratory tests using blood from eight of its phase 1 trial participants.

Chief Executive, Stéphane Bancel, said in a statement: "We are encouraged by these new data," adding: "Out of an abundance of caution and leveraging the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are advancing an emerging variant booster candidate against the variant first identified in the Republic of South Africa into the clinic to determine if it will be more effective to boost titres against this and potentially future variants."

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, virologist Professor Lawrence Young, Warwick Medical School, said: "A 6-fold reduction in neutralising titre is likely to impact vaccine efficacy and, as stated in the press release, the longevity of the antibody response to vaccination may also be impacted. It is important that we study the neutralising antibody response in individuals infected with B.1.35.1 [South African variant]. It is likely that this variant will elicit a protective immune response but that the profile of the antibody response will be different."

The MHRA approved the Moderna vaccine on 8 January. The UK has ordered seven million doses with the first supplies due to arrive in the spring.

Daily Data

In today's daily data another 22,195 UK positive tests were reported and 592 deaths.

Another 3547 COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospital. The total is now 37,899, and 4076 ventilator beds are in use.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is self-isolating for a third time. "This morning I was notified that I must self-isolate after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19," he said on Twitter. "I have no symptoms and will be working from home until next Monday."

Sacked 'for Having a Beard'

Some NHS workers who wear beards for religious reasons were sacked after refusing to remove them to make PPE fit better, and others have come under pressure to shave them off, according to a preprint study.

A total of 469 healthcare professionals responded to an online survey in April-May last year.

Among the findings:

  • 1% (three respondents) were sacked for refusing for religious reasons to shave their beards

  • 27% felt pressured by their employer to remove their facial hair

  • Shaving the beard affected the mental or emotional wellbeing for 42%

  • Religious identity had been violated for 50%

The authors conclude: "The findings from this study shows that not enough consideration was given to the importance of the beard to health care staff, by not accommodating those who have it through failure to supply alternative PPE or direct the staff to an alternative type of work. In spite of this, staff still have faith in the health system to accommodate their religious needs."

Occupations & Deaths

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has analysed 7961 COVID-19 deaths related to occupation in England and Wales registered between March and December 2020.

The age-standardised mortality rate of death involving COVID-19 was statistically significantly higher in men, at 31.4 deaths per 100,000 men aged 20 to 64 years compared with 16.8 deaths per 100,000 women.

Men who worked in healthcare occupations had a statistically higher rate of death involving COVID-19 (44.9 deaths per 100,000) when compared with men of the same age in the general population.

The rate among women who worked in healthcare occupations was 17.3 deaths per 100,000, which is statistically similar to the rate in the general population.

Nurses had statistically significantly higher rates of death involving COVID-19 when compared with the rate of COVID-19 among those of the same age and sex in the population (79.1 deaths per 100,000 males, 24.5 deaths per 100,000 females).

For medical practitioners, there were 27.6 deaths per 100,000.

Rates of death involving COVID-19 in men and women in teaching were not statistically significantly higher compared with the general population.

Commenting, Ben Humberstone ONS head of Health Analysis and Life Events said: "Today’s analysis shows that jobs with regular exposure to COVID-19 and those working in close proximity to others continue to have higher COVID-19 death rates when compared to the rest of the working age population. Men continue to have higher rates of death than women, making up nearly two thirds of these deaths.

"As the pandemic has progressed, we have learnt more about the disease and the communities it impacts most. There are a complex combination of factors that influence the risk of death; from your age and your ethnicity, where you live and who you live with, to pre-existing health conditions. Our findings do not prove that the rates of death involving COVID-19 are caused by differences in occupational exposure."

Mexican President

Mexico's President, Ándrés Manuel López Obrador, 67, is the latest world leader to test positive for COVID-19.

He said on social media that he has "mild symptoms" and is "undergoing medical treatment."

Medscape's Spanish edition reported the President is never seen wearing a mask at public events.

Cancer 'Groundhog Day'

Cancer patients are facing "the worst possible Groundhog Day" over the latest disruption to their care, according to MacMillan's cancer support line manager Chris Payne.

Latest polling for the charity suggested 40% of those receiving treatment in the run-up to the current lockdown were worried that disruption caused by the coronavirus could be reducing the likelihood of their treatment being successful, or shortening their lives.

That compares to 28% last June.

The latest survey results are based on YouGov polling of 2904 adults in December with a previous cancer diagnosis, including 293 currently going through cancer treatment.

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

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