UK COVID-19 Update: Oxford Jab Restrictions for Younger People? Valneva Jab New Data

Tim Locke

April 06, 2021

Editor's note, 6 April 2021: This article was updated with new information on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

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

Oxford Jab Restrictions for Younger People?

Channel 4 News reported the MHRA is considering restricting use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in younger people over concerns about rare blood clots.

However, Chief Executive, Dr June Raine, said in a statement: "Our thorough and detailed review is ongoing into reports of very rare and specific types of blood clots with low platelets following the COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca.

"No decision has yet been made on any regulatory action."

Last week, the MHRA said it had received 22 reports of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) and eight reports of other thrombosis events with low platelets out of 18.1 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine administered.

There were also seven deaths due to blood clots.

The Chair of the European Medicines Agency's vaccine evaluation team, Marco Cavaleri, told an Italian newspaper: "In my opinion we can now say it, it is clear that there is an association with the vaccine. However, we still do not know what causes this reaction."

Later on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported Oxford had paused a study of the vaccine in children as it waited for more information from the MHRA. There have been no safety issues in the trial but it said the decision was due to broader concerns about rare clotting problems in adults.

Despite news reporting of clotting events, the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data show positive sentiment towards COVID-19 vaccination remained high with 95% of adults reporting they had now either received a vaccine, or would be likely to have a vaccine if offered, up from 94% last week.

Valneva Jab New Data

Valneva issued  Part A of the Phase 1/2 clinical trial data for its vaccine in a press release quoting England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock as saying the jab produced "a strong immune response". 

The company said: "VLA2001 was generally safe and well tolerated across all dose groups tested, with no safety concerns identified by an independent Data Safety Monitoring Board." It added that the data show: "More than 90% of all study participants developing significant levels of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein across all dose groups tested."

The vaccine, which also induced T-cell responses, will be manufactured in Livingston in Scotland.

Meanwhile, Vaccine Deployment Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said the Moderna vaccine would be "in deployment around the third week of April".

Caution on Mass Rapid Testing

The BMA responded to plans to offer rapid testing to all adults in England from Friday.

"The rollout of rapid twice-weekly testing for all adults could help to identify some cases of those who have COVID-19 but don’t show symptoms which would otherwise go undetected – if those people then self-isolate this will minimise spread," said Council Chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul.

"However, it is vital that the public is made aware of the limitation and accuracy of these tests. Recent research into lateral flow tests suggests they can pick up about over half of people with symptoms but significantly fewer of those who have COVID-19 but don’t have any symptoms."

England's Lockdown Roadmap

Last night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he'd stick "like glue" to his 'roadmap' out of England's lockdown.

SAGE documents say the reopening of shops and outdoor hospitality on 12 April is unlikely to put pressure on the NHS but caution that later stages of the roadmap might.

A separate assessment by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said the fourth stage lifting all legal limits on social contact could "lead to a larger surge of cases and deaths comparable to that seen during the first wave".

Deputy Chief Executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, commented: "The Prime Minister made a commitment to be driven by data, not dates and trust leaders will hold him to this. We mustn’t rush headfirst into lifting more restrictions in May unless it is absolutely safe to do so."

Meanwhile, all pupils in Scotland, with the exception of those still shielding, will be back at school after the Easter holidays.

COVID-status Certification

Mr Johnson avoided the term 'vaccine passport' but confirmed that "a COVID-status certification system will be developed over the coming months which could allow higher-risk settings to be opened up more safely and with more participants. Over the coming months, a system will be developed which will take into account three factors: vaccination, a recent negative test, or natural immunity (determined on the basis of a positive test taken in the previous 6 months)."

Pilot events are due to be held later this month.

Last week, the Royal College of GPs said any system must have a "zero impact" on GP workload. Its Chair, Professor Martin Marshall, said: "Whilst the College is not necessarily opposed to the introduction of some sort of opt-in proof of vaccination document to allow for international travel, it must not become the role of GPs and our teams to issue these. It would not be sensible for GPs, or any other members of the practice team, to spend their time on cumbersome red tape that will take them away from patient care."

Mr Johnson faces political opposition over the plans, including from his own party, with more than 70 MPs saying they'll oppose the "divisive and discriminatory use of COVID status certification".

Today the PM said he hadn't "given up" on overseas travel starting again from 17 May. Plans are being put in place for a traffic light system for the COVID risk of each destination.

5-Minute Breast Cancer Treatment

A shorter treatment is being offered to some HER2-positive breast cancer patients to reduce the time spent in hospital to reduce COVID-19 infection risks.

Chemotherapy patients will be offered the new PHESGO (pertuzumab with trastuzumab) combination injection. It can be administered in as little as 5 minutes rather than having  two infusions that can take up to two-and-a-half hours.  

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, called it "fantastic news", adding: "Reducing the time patients need to spend in hospital, this more efficient treatment method also promises to free up precious time for healthcare professionals when the NHS is already under unprecedented strain due to COVID-19."

Sir Paul Cosford Remembered

Tributes have been paid to Public Health England' (PHE) Emeritus Medical Director, Professor Sir Paul Cosford, who has died 4 years after being diagnosed with cancer.

NHS England National Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis said: "Paul made a massive contribution to public health and even while he was ill, he was helping us in our battle against coronavirus."

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

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