UK COVID-19 Update: Jabs for All, Hancock's Denial, GPs Under Pressure

Tim Locke

May 27, 2021

Editor's note, 27 May 2021: This article was updated with information from a Downing Street briefing.

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

Jabs for All

Northern Ireland became the first part of the UK to open COVID-19 vaccine booking to all over-18s.

Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride, said: "I know that many young people will be very keen to book their jab now that they’re eligible for vaccination. It’s important to understand that while the risk of severe disease is lower in young people, some may become very ill and, of course, they can pass on the virus to others who may be more vulnerable.

"We’re dealing with the emergence of new variants and we all have a part to play in keeping each other safe. I would urge everyone aged 18 and over to book a slot for vaccination, including those in older age-groups who have not yet stepped forward."
 

Colchicine and Remdesivir 

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has concluded there is insufficient evidence to recommend colchicine as a treatment for COVID-19 patients.

NICE also updated its conditional recommendation on remdesivir in hospitalised COVID-19 patients.

NICE now advises that remdesivir should be considered for hospitalised patients, aged 12 years and over or weighing 40 kg or more, who are on low-flow supplemental oxygen.

Previously the drug was recommended for patients on supplemental oxygen but not on invasive mechanical ventilation but the length of treatment remains at 5 days.

NICE said evidence suggests that remdesivir is more beneficial earlier in the course of the disease.

Hancock's Denial

England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock made a Commons statement to counter allegations made against him yesterday by former Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings. He said Mr Hanock should have been fired for lying over the Government's pandemic response.

"These unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true." he said.

"I’ve been straight with people in public and in private throughout."

Latest Data

Mr Hancock also said vaccination is "severing" the link between COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions, and deaths but it was too early to commit to England's next easing of lockdown measures due on 21 June.

Later, he told a Downing Street briefing: "Yesterday, we saw 3542 new cases, the highest since 12 April." He said that up to three quarters of all new cases are now from the Indian variant of the virus.

Latest test and trace figures for England show 14,051 people tested positive for COVID-19 in the week to May 19. That's slightly down on last week's data.

Public Health England surveillance indicators suggest that COVID-19 activity increased slightly nationally in week 20.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, PHE medical director, said: "COVID infection rates have risen across most age groups and regions, but encouragingly the number in hospitals across the country remains low. However, we are concerned about the outbreak of the variant first discovered in India and in some areas hospitalisations have slightly risen."

PHE estimates that vaccination has now prevented 13,200 deaths in over-60s, and 39,700 hospitalisations in those aged 65 and over.

GPs Under Pressure

The Royal College of GPs has been doing media interviews to stress that rising NHS pressure isn't just about A&E and hospital admissions.

Chair Martin Marshall said: "Public attention on NHS pressures always seems to focus on hospitals, but we must not ignore the pressures in general practice as this will have dire consequences for the wider NHS and the care of our patients."

He said the Government needs to deliver on its promise of 6000 more GPs, "when currently, the reality is, that there are only around 400 more full time equivalent GPs than in 2019".
 

Thromboembolic Events

The MHRA released its weekly update on adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines. 

Up to 19 May, it received reports of 332 cases of major thromboembolic events with concurrent thrombocytopenia following vaccination with the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab. These events occurred in 180 women and 151 men aged from 18 to 93 years and the overall case fatality rate was 17% with 58 deaths. 17 cases have been reported after a second dose.

The agency said: "On the basis of this ongoing review, the advice remains that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks in the majority of people."

School Testing

Office for National Statistics (ONS) schools infection survey data for England show that in March, 21.52% of primary school staff, and 18.66% of secondary school staff tested positive to SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.

In December, 13.45% of secondary school pupils tested positive to SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, this was significantly higher than primary school pupils at 9.05%.

Fiona Dawe from ONS said: "The data shows there was a significantly higher number of pupils with COVID–19 antibodies in secondary schools than in primary schools in December.

"The results also showed the percentage of staff with antibodies rose in both secondary and primary schools in… March."

Separate ONS data show:

  • 81% of staff in older adult care homes in England had at least one vaccine dose by 27 April. This was lower in London (72%) and higher in the North East (87%).

  • Deaths from all causes in private homes across the UK exceeded the 5-year average in every month of 2020 since the coronavirus pandemic struck in March

  • In early 2021 rates of depressive symptoms in younger adults (16-39) were nearly double pre-pandemic levels

More News

  • UK experts have reacted to reports that US President Biden ordered intelligence officials to redouble efforts to investigate the origins of COVID-19, including investigating a possible lab leak. Lawrence Young, virologist and professor of molecular oncology, University of Warwick, told the Science Media Centre: "While the original WHO investigation assessed the likelihood of the virus originating from a ‘laboratory incident’ as extremely unlikely, others have raised concerns about the possibility that three researchers at the research laboratories in Wuhan, where coronaviruses were being studied, become ill in November 2019 and required hospital treatment.  WHO are preparing for a second phase of studies into the origin of the COVID-19 virus but this will require full openness and cooperation from the Chinese government.  The only way to stop future pandemics driven by viruses that spill over into humans from animals is to fully understand the conditions by which such spread could have happened and do everything to prevent it happening again."

  • Better data is needed beyond deaths to judge the long-term health impacts of COVID-19, according to London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine authors writing in Nature . "Without the right metrics, we can see, understand and respond to only a fraction of the problem," they wrote.

  • A BMJ investigation found that experts who sit on UK and US vaccine advisory panels are only asked to disclose conflicts from the previous 12 months, "which can miss significant financial payments that occurred in recent years". Public Health England told The BMJ that for single issue JCVI meetings, conflicts of interest must be reported "only if they relate directly to that matter, rather than more widely".

  • Francis Crick Institute researchers writing in Nature Medicine call for further prospective pharmacovigilance data on people with cancer following Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination after reporting on a case of cytokine release syndrome. However, they wrote that "the benefit–risk profile remains strongly in favour of COVID-19 vaccination in this population".

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

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