UK COVID-19 Update: Novavax Jab 'Effective Against UK Variant', Welsh Lockdown Extended

Tim Locke

January 29, 2021

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

Novavax Jab 'Effective Against UK Variant'

The MHRA is assessing the coronavirus vaccine from the US drug company Novavax after it reported it was effective against the UK variant with an overall efficacy of 89.3%.

The phase 3 UK trial in collaboration with the National Institute for Health Research vaccine registry involved more than 15,000 participants aged 18-84, with 27% aged over 65.

There were 62 positive cases, 56 of them in the placebo group. More than half the cases were the UK variant of the virus.

Of the 62 cases, 61 were mild or moderate, and one in the placebo group was severe.

Post-hoc analysis found the jab was 95.6% effective against the original strain and 85.6% effective against the UK variant strain.

The UK has ordered 60 million doses which will be manufactured in Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees.

Vaccine Taskforce Chair, Clive Dix, said: "These are spectacular results, and we are very pleased to have helped Novavax with the development of this vaccine. The efficacy shown against the emerging variants is also extremely encouraging. This is an incredible achievement that will ensure we can protect individuals in the UK and the rest of the world from this virus."

Chief Medical Adviser Professor Chris Whitty called it: "A highly effective vaccine to add to the medical countermeasures against COVID-19 trialled in the UK. If it gets MHRA approval this increases our future resilience, including against the B.1.1.7 [UK] variant. Many thanks to all trial volunteers and those who conducted the research."

In the South African phase 2b trial, in which more than 90% of cases involved that country's variant, efficacy was 60% in the 94% of the study population that was HIV-negative.

Janssen Jab

Johnson & Johnson/Janssen's COVID-19 single dose vaccine is 66% effective, the company announced.

In a news release it said: "The level of protection against moderate to severe COVID-19 infection was 72% in the United States, 66% in Latin America and 57% in South Africa, 28 days post-vaccination."

UK phase 3 trials began in November.

The UK had already ordered 30 million doses.

This afternoon the European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for all over-18s despite Germany saying it should only be used for under-65s.

The EMA said the second dose should be given between 4 and 12 weeks after the first.

Vaccine Uptake

So far, 7.8 million people have received a first vaccine dose.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) social impact data continue to show a high likelihood of people taking up the offer of vaccination (88%).

However, there were differences among different groups. Tim Vizard from ONS said: "Younger adults were less likely to report wanting the vaccine if offered compared with older adults, with rates lower in younger women compared with younger men. We also found less than half (49%) of Black or Black British adults would be likely to have the vaccine if offered, the lowest rate found across ethnic groups."


Today is the anniversary of the first confirmed UK COVID-19 patients being treated at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.

Consultant Dr Matt Schmid, who led the treatment team, said today: "Looking back a year on, it is incredible to think that my team treated what would be the first of many tens of thousands of COVID-19 patients across the country. Although an unknown disease at the time, we were prepared to care for those first patients and experienced the beginning of huge changes to the way the whole health service delivers care and the way we worked.

"I am very proud of the standard of care we delivered to those first patients in January 2020 and of how we have maintained that standard under ever increasing pressure. Now, as then, we have met each COVID-19 patient with care and compassion in their darkest moments and as we have developed our knowledge of the virus, we have swiftly adapted to deliver the highest possible level of care."

Infection Survey

Latest data from the ONS infection survey for the week ending 23 January show:

  • The percentage of people testing positive in England remains high with 1,018,700 people having COVID-19, equating to around 1 in 55. In London, the figure is 1 in 35

  • The percentage of people testing positive in Scotland remained level with 48,500 people having COVID-19, equating to around 1 in 110 people

  • The percentage of people testing positive in Wales remained level with 43,600 people having COVID-19, equating to around 1 in 70

  • The percentage of people testing positive in Northern Ireland has levelled off with 36,800 having COVID-19, equating to around 1 in 50 people

The UK's R number is now 0.7-1.1. Last week it was 0.8 to 1.0.

The growth rate range is -5% to 0%.

Welsh Lockdown Extended

Wales is keeping its lockdown in place for another 3 weeks.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the situation is improving but restrictions need to continue to allow the NHS to recover.

However, Wales is hoping for a "phased and flexible" return to schools after 22 February.

LamPORE Test

The Department for Health and Social Care says the Oxford Nanopore LamPORE testing technology used in pilot pop-up laboratories is "highly effective" in detecting the virus in people with and without symptoms.

The asymptomatic pilot study recruited 1200 healthcare workers across four hospitals. The results add to previous studies on symptomatic patients. They found:

  • A sensitivity of 100% and a specificity of 100% for swab samples from symptomatic patients

  • A sensitivity of 99.6% and specificity of 99.4% for swab samples from asymptomatic patients

  • A sensitivity of 98.9% and specificity of 99.4% for saliva samples from asymptomatic patients

Chief Scientific Officer for England in NHS Test and Trace, Professor Dame Sue Hill, who led the evaluation, said: "The LamPORE test shows very high sensitivity, so can be used for the full range of diagnostic and other use cases. This study showed it to be effective when using saliva samples from people without symptoms and it has the additional advantage of being able to detect other winter viruses, such as flu, increasing the scenarios in which it could be deployed."

BAME Health Outcomes

Research has shown people from BAME backgrounds have worse COVID-19 outcomes.

Now a Lancet Public Health study finds the average health of over-55s from Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Arab groups to be the equivalent of a White person 20 years older.

Lead author, Dr Ruth Watkinson, University of Manchester, commented: "We must consider how social deprivation intersects with gender, ethnicity, and other personal characteristics, such as immigration status or religion, to affect poor health outcomes. Looking forward, we need much more long-term research to understand how structural and institutional racism creates health inequalities."

COVID-19 & Male Fertility

UK experts have questioned longitudinal research from Iran published in Reproduction suggesting COVID-19 adversely impacts several markers of inflammation and oxidative stress in semen.

Study lead, PhD student Behzad Hajizadeh Maleki, said the results indicate the testes "should be...declared a high-risk organ by the World Health Organisation".

"I need to raise a strong note of caution in the interpretation of these data," Allan Pacey, professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield, told Medscape Medical News.

Channa Jayasena, PhD, a reader in reproductive endocrinology & andrology, Imperial College London, said it was "difficult to work out how much of the reductions observed in this study were specific to COVID-19 rather than just from being ill".

More Lockdown TV, Less Exercise

University College London's continuing COVID-19 Social Study finds 40% of people report exercising less in the current lockdown than in the first, although 13% say they exercise more.

When it came to TV, gaming, and streaming, 19% had more screen time but 13% had less.

Lead author, Dr Daisy Fancourt, commented: "It is not surprising that the current lockdown has seen fewer people exercising than the first, taking place as it does during the winter months, but this is still a cause for concern as exercise can boost not just physical, but also mental wellbeing."

Sexist Ad Removed

The Government has withdrawn a COVID-19 'stay at home' ad after it was criticised for showing women cleaning, ironing, and home schooling while a man sat on a sofa.

"Turns out 1950s sexism is spreading fast too," Labour's Yvette Cooper tweeted.

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


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