UK COVID-19 Update: Vaccination 'Target Met', Jabs for 6-Year-Olds Trial

Tim Locke

February 15, 2021

Editor's note, 15 February 2021: This article was updated with today's daily data and information from a Downing Street briefing, 19 February 2021: This article was updated to remove a reference to a study being mentioned in PMQs.

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

Vaccination 'Target Met'

The UK has met the target a day early to offer first dose vaccinations for the JCVI priority groups 1-4 by today. Anyone who may have been missed or changed their mind is being urged to contact the NHS.

As yesterday, 15.3m first doses had been given, and 539,630 second doses. In early March, second doses will be given to those who had first doses in January after the gap was extended from 3 weeks to 12.

Vaccination began on December 8 last year and now moves on to people aged 65 to 69 and those who are clinically vulnerable. The next target is for first doses offered to  the next five priority groups, including over 50s, before May.

NHS England Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens told a Downing Street briefing it is "definitely not mission accomplished" and the vaccination programme is "two sprints and a marathon". 

He also said GPs have been asked to "use the next several weeks to focus particularly on more than 6 million people who have got underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk". 

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "This milestone is cause for celebration - but the challenge continues and GP teams are already preparing for the next phase of the vaccination programme."

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said it was "an extraordinary achievement".

He continued: "This milestone shows exactly what happens when clinicians are allowed to lead from the front, unhindered by unnecessary bureaucracy or red tape as they focus on delivering vaccines to patients, and this must continue as we look to the next phase of the rollout.

"As we widen the net on vaccine eligibility, it’s also vital that the Government is clear in its messaging to the public, which must be culturally competent so that we maximise uptake in areas of deprivation and in Black and Minority Ethnic populations. We also need reassurance on sustained vaccine supplies, and urgent clarity on how mass vaccination centres will work alongside GP-led community sites and surgeries in order to prevent patient confusion and keep the momentum of this rollout going.”

The new phase of the programme in England sees use of WhatsApp groups, charity involvement, and mobile centres to encourage 'vaccine hesitant' communities to come forward.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: "We recognise that some groups feel more hesitant about getting a jab, or have more barriers, both physical and mental, preventing them from accessing one when it’s offered."

Sir Simon Stevens said we're up against "a dual epidemic" - COVID-19 and "a pandemic of disinformation". 

Jabs for 6-Year-Olds Trial

The University of Oxford is beginning clinical trials of its vaccine in children and young adults aged 6-17 at sites in London, Southampton, and Bristol.

Andrew Pollard, chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, said: "While most children are relatively unaffected by coronavirus and are unlikely to become unwell with the infection, it is important to establish the safety and immune response to the vaccine in children and young people as some children may benefit from vaccination. These new trials will extend our understanding of control of SARS-CoV2 to younger age groups."

A preprint study of school absences in England between September and December last year concludes "there is not significant evidence to suggest that schools are playing a significant role in driving [COVID-19] spread in the community and that careful monitoring may be required as schools reopen to determine the effect associated with open schools upon community incidence". The preprint was not available online at the time of publication.

In other vaccine developments:

  • Israel healthcare provider Clalit reported a 94% drop in symptomatic COVID-19 infections among 600,000 people who received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against a control group.

  • The French health authority Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS) says people who have recovered from COVID-19 only need one vaccine dose 3-6 months after infection to boost their immune system’s 'memory'.

Surge Testing

Surge testing is being deployed in more areas to detect South Africa variant cases, including parts of Middlesbrough, Walsall, and Hampshire.

The success of the vaccination programme has put Boris Johnson under pressure from some MPs in his own party to announce plans for easing lockdown restrictions. The Prime Minister is due to outline his plans next week but today said his approach would be "cautious but irreversible".

New hotel quarantine and testing measures came into force today for arrivals to England from ‘red list’ countries and for arrivals from all countries to Scotland. The UK Government booked 4963 rooms in 16 hotels and has 58,000 more rooms on standby.

The latest winter flow data from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine show:

  • 55,718 A&E attendances, up from 55,634 the previous week

  • Average 4 hour standard performance was 73.66%, up from 71.64% the previous week

  • There were 2553 12 hour waits, down from 2609 the previous week

Daily Data

In today's daily data another 9765 UK positive tests were reported and 230 deaths.

Another 1641 COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospital. The total is now 23,341 and 2943 ventilator beds are in use.

Chief Medical Adviser Professor Chris Whitty told a Downing Street briefing case numbers "are coming down steadily over time but they're still at quite a high level, and above the point where it was, for example, in September last year. So, significant progress but still quite high."

The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital is "still very high...slightly above the point which they were at the peak of the epidemic in April of last year. So these are still very high rates but they're definitely heading in the right direction". 

Deaths, he said, remain high "but definitely heading in the right direction. This is now below the peak of the first wave we had last year".

On vaccinations, he said: "We're confident that these vaccines will produce some level of protection from transmission. We don't yet know exactly how much." 

Unprotected

The latest member polling by the BMA finds only 28% of 8153 doctors and medical students responding to the survey feel fully protected at work.

Another 64% felt partly protected and 8% didn't feel protected at all.

Chair of the Consultants Committee, Dr Rob Harwood said: "No one should have to go to work and not feel safe, but these results show that our doctors, the length and breadth of the country, seem to be doing just that - and that’s a terrible indictment. To be caring for patients, many of whom are seriously ill and need complex care, whilst anxious about the adequacy of your own protection from the virus, should not be happening in a twenty first century health service."

AGILE 

The AGILE clinical trial platform has been given Government funding to take new COVID-19 treatments through phase 1-3 clinical studies.

The first treatments being studied are:

  • EIDD-2801/Molnupiravir (antiviral)

  • VIR-7831 and VIR-7832 (monoclonal antibodies)

  • Niclosamide (anthelminthic)

Future treatments will be selected by the UK COVID-19 Therapeutics Advisory Panel (UK-CTAP).

Vitamin D

A study from Spain on the benefits of calcifediol/vitamin D supplementation in reducing COVID-19 mortality has been published as a preprint.

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine, University of Glasgow, said: "This is interesting but a huge dose of scepticism in the top line results is warranted as this is NOT a randomised controlled trial with no information on process of randomisation, and lack of placebo. It also does not appear to be registered as a trial. Also, baseline differences in more females in the vitamin D3 (calcifediol) group plus higher vitamin D levels, could easily confound the results.  There is also no reason to relate vitamin D levels to outcomes as that is observational and tells us nothing new as we know vitamin D levels are lower in sicker patients – we have known this for decades in many conditions.

"In short, this is not a useful study as it falls well short of a well conducted randomised trial.  Whilst many wish to believe vitamin D is the cure to COVID-19 or an exciting treatment, this 'trial' cannot allow any such inference.  We must await robust randomised trials to form appropriate conclusions."

No Cap on Exit Payments

With polling showing some doctors are considering leaving medicine after the pandemic response some will welcome an end to the £95,000 cap on public sector severance payments.

The BMA said it has won "a significant legal battle" to bring about the change saying the cap "was unlawful and would have far reaching consequences".

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

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