UK COVID-19 Update: Strong Protection from Pfizer Jab and Vaccine Confidence Remains High

Peter Russell

May 06, 2021

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

'High Protection' From 2 Doses of Pfizer Vaccine

Two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine provided more than 95% protection against infection, hospitalisation, severe illness, and death, according to a study in The Lancet.

Israel was the first country to report national data on the Pfizer vaccine based on the first 4 months of its nationwide vaccination campaign.

Adjusted estimates of vaccine effectiveness at 7 days or longer after the second dose were:

  • 95·3% against SARS-CoV-2 infection

  • 91·5% against asymptomatic infection

  • 97·0% against symptomatic COVID-19

  • 97·2% against COVID-19-related hospitalisation

  • 97·5% against severe or critical COVID-19-related hospitalisation

  • 96·7% against COVID-19-related death

Vaccine effectiveness was seen across all age groups, and against the B.1.1.7 'UK/Kent' variant that was predominant at the time of the investigation.

Dr Sharon Alroy-Preis of the Israel Ministry of Health, who led the study, said: "As the country with the highest proportion of its population vaccinated against COVID-19, Israel provides a unique real-world opportunity to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine and to observe wider effects of the vaccination programme on public health."

A supplementary analysis showed that a single dose of the vaccine was associated with moderate protection against infection, hospitalisation, and death, emphasising the importance of fully vaccinating adults, the researchers said.

They acknowledged remaining uncertainties about the duration of immunity, and the possible emergence of vaccine-resistant variants.

Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, commented to the Science Media Centre: "These data confirm the Pfizer mRNA vaccine provides very high protection from serious COVID19 disease and death – even in older more vulnerable people. Importantly, the study shows that two doses of the vaccine significantly increase levels of immunity and protection. This is why it is important that people get both doses, and if UK vaccine policy changes to get a third dose if offered in the autumn.

"Topping up your immunity with the vaccine boost will be even more important with the emergence of new variants that might have acquired genetic changes that make them more resistant to the immunity generated by vaccines or following natural infection. Therefore, it will be important to continue to monitor the potential impact of virus change and vaccine effectiveness."

'Small' Blood Clot Risk from AstraZeneca Jab 

The AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine was associated with a small increase in the rates of venous blood clots, including clots in the brain, compared with expected rates in the general population, research found.

The findings were based on 281,264 recipients in Denmark and Norway – most of whom were women – who received a first dose of the vaccine.

The study, published in The BMJ, found increased rates of venous thromboembolic events, including cerebral venous thrombosis, in recipients of a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Specifically, there were 59 venous blood clots compared with 30 that would have been expected. That corresponded to 11 excess events per 100,000 vaccinations, the researchers said. The rate of cerebral venous thrombosis was 2.5 events per 100,000 vaccinations.

However, other safety outcomes were "largely reassuring", with slightly higher rates of thrombocytopenia/coagulation disorders and bleeding, which the researchers said could be the result of increased surveillance of people who had been vaccinated.

They pointed out that, "The absolute risks of venous thromboembolic events were, however, small, and the findings should be interpreted in the light of the proven beneficial effects of the vaccine".

A lack of data on underlying risk factors for clotting, and the possibility that their results may not apply to people in other ethnic groups, could limit the scope of the findings, the authors said.

In a linked opinion piece, Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: "Those countries that delayed their own vaccination programmes at a time of high transmission rates by declining to use available Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines should know that their decision will have contributed to an increase in the number of avoidable deaths from COVID-19."

Vaccine Lowest in Ethnic Groups

Vaccination rates for the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine were lower among all ethnic minority groups over 50 years compared with the equivalent White British population, official figures showed.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the lowest vaccination rates in ethnic background groups were:

  • Black Caribbean (66.8%)

  • Black African (71.2%)

  • Pakistani (78.4%)

Vaccination rates also differed by religious affiliation, with the lowest rate being among those who identified as Muslim (78.8%), and Buddhist (83.3%).

Lower vaccination rates were also seen in people from poorer backgrounds, who were disabled, or who were less proficient at speaking English.

Vaccine Hesitancy

Latest ONS figures showed that 93% of adults felt positive about COVID-19 vaccines.

The statistics suggested that 7% of adults reported vaccine hesitancy between March 31 and April 25, up slightly from 6% in the period February 17 to March 14.

Among ethnic groups, 30% of Black or Black British adults said they were hesitant about accepting the vaccine.

Thirteen percent of people aged 16 to 29 reported vaccine hesitancy.

The main concerns cited were long-term effects on health, side-effects, and vaccine effectiveness.

The ONS said it would tomorrow publish the results of a study examining the attitudes of people who were uncertain about being vaccinated or were unwilling or unable to do so.

The latest Government figures showed that 34,934,171 people in the UK had now received a first dose of a COVID vaccine, and 16,291,719 had received a second dose.

Alcohol Deaths

The number of alcohol-specific deaths in England and Wales increased by 19.6% in 2020 compared with the previous year, ONS data showed.

The 7423 deaths last year directly attributable to alcohol was the highest annual total since recording began in 2001.

The figures also revealed that alcohol-specific deaths rose each quarter last year as the pandemic took hold. The age-standardised rate in 2020 was 8.5% higher in Quarter 1, 17.4% higher in Quarter 2, 21.9% in Quarter 3 and 28.3% higher in Quarter 4, than in the equivalent quarter of 2019.

A provisional analysis for England showed that alcohol-specific deaths among men in 2020 was 4.2 times higher in the most deprived areas than the least deprived areas.

The ONS said it would take time to assess what effects the pandemic might have had on the increase in deaths.

Other News

  • Cases of COVID-19 decreased in the week up to May 2, data from Public Health England (PHE) showed. It found that case rates per 100,000 fell in all age groups, apart from those aged 5-9 which saw a slight increase, with a rate of 16.1 compared to 14.7 in the previous week. Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director of PHE, said: "We should not become complacent."

  • England recorded 15,593 people who tested positive for COVID at least once between April 22 and April 28, figures from the Department of Health and Social Care showed. Commenting on the figure, Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, praised health professionals for working "flat out" but called on the Government to "invest in the workforce and make sure we do not lose vital staff at this critical juncture".

  • Clearing the NHS backlog would be a tough time for the health service when it was already working at "full pelt", the Chief Executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, has said. Mr Hopson told the BBC's Today programme that an annual vaccination programme, tight infection control, and permanent test and trace capacity would need extra funding from the Government.

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

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