UK COVID-19 Update: Budget Money for Vaccines Programme

Peter Russell

March 03, 2021

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

Budget Help for Vaccination Programme

England’s COVID vaccination rollout received an extra £1.65 billion in this afternoon's Budget to help it reach its target of offering a first dose to every adult by July 31.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak also announced £28 million to increase the UK's capacity for vaccine testing, support for clinical trials, and improve the country's ability to rapidly acquire samples of new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Ahead of his Budget statement, Mr Sunak said: "The UK's vaccination programme has been a great success and is protecting lives and livelihoods, with over 19 million people already receiving their first dose.

"But it's essential we maintain this momentum.

"Protecting ourselves against the virus means we will be able to lift restrictions, reopen our economy and focus our attention on creating jobs and stimulating growth."

In other announcements covering the pandemic, the Chancellor said there would be:

  • £22 million for a study to test the effectiveness of combinations of different COVID-19 vaccines, and to also fund the world's first study assessing the effectiveness of a third dose of vaccine to improve the response against current and future variants

  • A further £5 million on top of a previous £9 million investment in clinical-scale messenger RNA (mRNA) manufacturing, to create a 'library' of COVID vaccines

  • An extension of the £500 Test and Trace support payments in England until the summer

Vaccine Effectiveness in Immunosuppressed Patients

Researchers have begun recruiting people for a study to understand the immune response to COVID-19 vaccinations in patients with immunosuppressed conditions.

The OCTAVE study will involve up to 5000 patients with underlying conditions.

Professor Iain McInnes, head of the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences at the University of Glasgow, who is leading the study, said: "We urgently need to understand if patient populations with chronic conditions such as cancer, inflammatory arthritis, and kidney and liver disease are likely to be well-protected by current COVID-19 vaccines.

"The OCTAVE study will give us invaluable new data to help us answer questions of this kind from our patients and their families."

Researchers will use a variety of state-of-the-art immune tests performed on blood samples taken before and/or after COVID-19 vaccination to explore patients' COVID-19 immune response and therefore the likelihood that vaccines will fully protect these groups from infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The OCTAVE study is funded by the Medical Research Council and involves teams from the  University of Glasgow, University of Birmingham, University of Oxford, University of Liverpool, Imperial College London, and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

Health Workers Top Sickness Absence List

Health and social care workers had the largest sickness absence rate among key workers in 2020, according to official figures.

Data from the Office for National Statistics showed that 3.5% of working days in this sector were lost last year, compared to the next highest group with 2.7%.

The analysis, Sickness absence in the UK labour market: 2020, showed that health and care workers also topped the list for sickness absence in 2019, before the pandemic, with 2.9% of days absent.

Across all industries, the COVID-19 pandemic led to additional workplace absence, but social distancing, shielding, furlough, and increased homeworking appear to have helped reduce other causes of absence, official figures showed.

Since April 2020, COVID accounted for 14.0% of all occurrences of sickness absence, data from the Office for National Statistics showed.

An estimated 47% of employed people did at least some of their work from home during the pandemic which contributed to less exposure to germs and minimised some of the usual sickness absences, statisticians suggested.

Vaccine Compulsory for Health Workers: Report

The Government was considering whether to introduce a legal obligation for NHS and care home staff to accept a COVID vaccination, according to a report in the Daily Mail.

It claimed the plans were being discussed as part of a review into vaccine passports, saying as many as 200,000 health and care employees had so far refused a vaccination.

It quoted an unnamed Cabinet source as saying: "It is extraordinary that so many people in the health sector appear to have turned down the vaccine."

However, the newspaper report acknowledges the "major legal and moral issues" raised by such a proposal.

It quoted a spokesman for NHS England who said that many trusts were reporting that 9 out of 10 staff had accepted the offer of a vaccine.

Daily Data

Another 6385 UK positive tests and 314 deaths were reported.

The estimated R number was 0.6 to 0.9 with a daily infection growth rate range of -6% to -2% as of February 26.

A total of 20,703,615 people in the UK have so far been given a first dose of vaccine, and 895,412 a second dose.

US President Accelerates Vaccine Rollout

The US would have enough COVID-19 vaccines for every adult by the end of May, President Joe Biden announced.

Mr Biden, who had promised that 100 million vaccinations would be administered in his first 100 days in office, said the healthcare system had reached the halfway point of his goal in 37 days.

The president also announced that two of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, Johnson & Johnson and Merck, had agreed to work together to expand production of the J&J vaccine.

US regulators issued emergency use authorisation for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine on February 27.

Dolly Gets a Dose of Her Own Medicine

Country star Dolly Parton received a COVID-19 vaccine after urging others to follow her example.

In a video posted beforehand on Twitter, Ms Parton, 75, said she was "old enough" and "smart enough" to be vaccinated.

She received the Moderna vaccine which she was credited with helping fund after donating $1m (£716,000) for early trials.

Ms Parton reworked the words of her hit song Jolene, singing, "Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I'm begging of you, please don't hesitate."

In the UK, the MHRA gave regulatory approval to the Moderna vaccine in January. It said the vaccine was 94% effective in preventing disease, including in the elderly.

The Government has agreed to buy 17 million doses of the Moderna vaccine. Deliveries are expected from the spring.

Editor's note: This article was updated on March 4 to include the figures for COVID tests, mortality, and vaccinations that were delayed on the Government website due to processing issues.

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

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