UK COVID-19 Update: Latest Pfizer/BioNTech Data, Nurses' Pay U-turn?

Tim Locke

March 12, 2021

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

Latest Pfizer/BioNTech, Novavax Data

Pfizer/BioNTech released data from Israel in a press release suggesting the vaccine is 94% effective in preventing asymptomatic infections.

Commenting via the Science Media centre, Dr Peter English, retired consultant in communicable disease control, said: "This is very good news indeed. The fact that the vaccine not only prevents disease, but also infections (and therefore, presumably, transmission) is particularly encouraging news.  If the vaccine can prevent transmission with over 90% efficacy, we are much [more] likely to achieve vaccine-induced population immunity (herd immunity), and thus – eventually to drive the effective R number below one through vaccination alone, which will (in due course!) allow us to relax social distancing and other restrictions."

Novavax issued a news release on latest data for its jab:

  • Offers 100% protection against severe disease

  • Final analysis of UK trial with more than 15,000 confirmed 96.4% efficacy against original virus strain

  • 86.3% efficacy against the UK variant

  • 55.4% efficacy against the South African variant in a smaller trial of HIV-negative participants

Commenting, Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health, University of Southampton, said: "One note of caution is the observed lower effectiveness against B.1.351 variant of concern, as first observed in South Africa. This shows the impact variants can have upon the pandemic response and thus is a strong argument for keeping cases as low as possible whilst the burden of COVID-19 is high. However, there is still a clear protective effect there in the Novavax trial, and data from across all the COVID-19 vaccines suggests that they will be hugely protective against severe illness from all variants, which is still an excellent outcome."

Canada, joined the UK and European Medicines Agency in confirming the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is safe after its use was suspended in Denmark, Iceland, and Norway due to blood clotting concerns.

The reports are being reviewed by a World Health Organisation expert advisory committee but spokesperson Margaret Harris told a news briefing that no causal relationship had been established between the vaccine and the problems reported. "It’s very important to understand that...we should continue to be using the AstraZeneca vaccine," she said.

Jabs for Homeless People

The JCVI is advising vaccination of all homeless people and rough sleepers alongside priority group 6. It said Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs will be easier to deploy in this group, who will not need an NHS number or GP registration to be eligible.

JCVI's Professor Wei Shen Lim said: "People experiencing homelessness are likely to have health conditions that put them at higher risk of death from COVID-19."

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data show changes in responses among those unlikely to have a COVID-19 jab:

  • Worried about the long-term effects on health (36% this week, 45% last week)

  • Worried about the side effects (34% this week, 25% last week)

  • Waiting to see how well the vaccine works (28% this week, 39% last week)

Infection Survey

Latest ONS infection survey data show a "mixed picture".

  • In England, the percentage of people testing positive has continued to decrease in the week ending 6 March, with around 1 in 270 people having COVID-19.

  • In Wales, the percentage of people testing positive has continued to decrease, with around 1 in 365 people having COVID-19.

  • In Scotland, the percentage of people testing positive appears to have levelled off, with around 1 in 320 people having COVID-19.

  • In Northern Ireland, the percentage of people testing positive appears to have levelled off, with around 1 in 310 people having COVID-19.

Sarah Crofts from ONS commented: "We are seeing a mixed picture across the UK this week. Infection levels in England and Wales have continued to decrease in the week ending 6 March 2021 but appear to be levelling off in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

"It’s reassuring to see infection levels in the majority of English regions also continuing to decrease, however it’s important for us to remain cautious and closely monitor those regions that are not showing a clear decrease. These are in the south of England, Yorkshire and The Humber and the West Midlands."

The UK's R number is now 0.6 to 0.8 and the growth rate is -7% to -4% per day.

In today's daily data another 6609 UK positive tests were reported and 175 deaths.

Another 575 COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospital. The total is now 8404 and 1194 ventilator beds are in use.

As of yesterday, 23,314,525 people have had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 1,445,078 a second dose.

Vaccinated Healthcare Workers

Public Health Scotland has published a preprint study suggesting that household members of healthcare workers who have at least one vaccine dose are around 30% less likely to become infected.

Commenting, Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases, University of Nottingham, said: "The main issue is that this study underestimates the degree of protection as household contacts of vaccinated workers can acquire infection from other sources. This means that some of the cases in this group could never be prevented by vaccine of a household member leading to an underestimate of the degree of secondary protection."

Nurses' Pay U-turn?

The Times reported that the Government may do a U-turn on nurses' pay with a source suggesting ministers are considering a 2-3% rise rather than the 1% previously announced, or the 2.1% in the NHS England long-term plan.

Last night, UNISON organised a slow hand clap for the Chancellor's "miserly 1%".

Wales Eases Lockdown

Wales is lifting some lockdown measures from tomorrow with the 'stay at home' rules replaced with 'stay local'.

From Saturday, four people from two households will be able to meet outdoors to socialise, outdoor sports facilities reopen, and indoor care home visits will restart for single designated visitors.

All primary school pupils and older children in exam years go back to school from Monday.

Hairdressers also re-open for appointments on Monday.

The First Minister Mark Drakeford said: "We will make step-by-step changes each week to gradually restore freedoms. We will monitor each change we make, so we know what impact each change has had on Wales’ public health situation."

Scotland's previously announced easing of some lockdown measures allows four people from two households to meet outdoors from today.

Pandemic Pets

Animal welfare experts expressed concerns about the future for so-called 'pandemic pets' after new figures suggested that 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired an animal in the last year.

The Pet Food Manufacturers' Association said new pet ownership had been largely driven by Gen Z and Millennials, with 59% of new owners aged 16-34.

The association said that while almost three quarters of people said their pet had helped their mental health through the pandemic, the study also raised concerns about pets' future welfare.

Samantha Gaines, a pet expert at the RSPCA, said: "Many of our pets are now used to having us around all the time while others have never known any different so we have real concerns that life post-lockdown, both in terms of a new routine and spending time alone, could be really difficult for them to adjust to."

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

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