UK COVID-19 Update: PPE Upgrade Success, More Beds Needed, Chris Whitty Harassed

Tim Locke

June 29, 2021

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

PPE Upgrades Cut Infections by Up to 100%

Upgrading PPE from fluid resistant surgical masks (FRSMs) to filtering face piece 3 (FFP3) respirators cut COVID-19 infections by up to 100%, according to a trial at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge.

Dr Chris Illingworth, Cambridge MRC Biostatistics Unit, said: "Before the face masks were upgraded, the majority of infections among healthcare workers on the COVID-19 wards were likely due to direct exposure to patients with COVID-19.

"Once FFP3 respirators were introduced, the number of cases attributed to exposure on COVID-19 wards dropped dramatically – in fact, our model suggests that FFP3 respirators may have cut ward-based infection to zero."

NHS 'Needs 16,000 More Beds'

New analysis by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine suggests the NHS in England needs another 16,000 beds to meet potential winter demand.

President, Dr Katherine Henderson, said: "We are currently seeing record levels of attendances at Emergency Departments and if this continues into winter – an extremely likely situation – the NHS will have too few beds to be able to cope.

"The consequences of having too few beds could be dire. If we do not have the capacity to admit patients into hospitals, then A&E waiting times will go up, patients will end up being treated in corridors – a very real threat to their safety before the pandemic, but now with the added risk of hospital acquired infection – and the elective backlog will grow further as beds earmarked for surgeries will be used for emergency patients."

Antibodies Study

Two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca  jab generate antibody levels 2.5 times lower against the Delta variant than the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, according to a Francis Crick Institute-led laboratory study published as a research letter in The Lancet.

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology, University of Nottingham, said: "It isn’t clear if these lower antibody levels are due to differences in the vaccine delivery system – where AZ use a chimpanzee adenovirus and Pfizer uses mRNA – or in the form of the coronavirus spike protein used to raise immunity.

"What this type of laboratory study doesn’t tell us is how well vaccine immunity is continuing to protect people from serious disease and death. There’s more to immunity than simply high levels of virus-killing antibodies, and it may well be that as far as protection against serious disease is concerned, there is still a lot of immunity left in the tank. So far, the evidence suggests that, in most people, the vaccines are continuing to perform well."

Pfizer and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines may provide protection against the virus for months — and much longer for those who had been infected and were later vaccinated, according to a US study in Nature. Either vaccine provided robust protection for at least 12 weeks following a second dose and could provide low-level protection for at least a year.

Jabs and Myocarditis 

Two US papers just published in Jama Cardiology look at MRI-confirmed myocarditis following mRNA COVID-19 vaccination.

One study looked at seven patients at Duke University Medical Center four of whom had recently had a jab. The authors concluded: "Further investigation is needed to determine associations of COVID-19 vaccination and myocarditis."

A second paper looked at 23 previously healthy male military patients who had recently been vaccinated, and the authors wrote: "Potential for rare vaccine-related adverse events must be considered in the context of the well-established risk of morbidity, including cardiac injury, following COVID-19 infection."

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Sam Mohiddin, professor of cardiology, Barts Heart Centre & Queen Mary University of London, said: "These reports do not contribute much that is new. 

"The most compelling evidence for a causal association remains the observation that cases most commonly follow a few days after a second dose of either of the two mRNA vaccines.  It is also evident that myocarditis, in all of its various forms, remains poorly understood in terms of cause, diagnosis and treatment.  We need large-scale association studies to tell us if there is an association between vaccine and myocarditis, as well as more nuts and bolts basic research to tell us why.  Until then, balancing the value of vaccination against the rarity/mildness of this form of myocardial inflammation seems very much in favour of vaccination."

Cases Coming Home?

Scotland’s Health Secretary Humza Yousaf told the BBC a rise in cases, 3285 yesterday, could be partly due to football fans travelling to London for the Euros.

“If we look at the data that’s presented, it’s very clear that it’s skewed disproportionately towards young males, those under 40.

"A number of people, public health experts and others, have commented that that association is probably as a result of greater indoor gathering which could be an effect relating to watching the Euros and football," he said.

Twenty cases were identified in one coach alone.

Jabs 'Saved 27,000 Lives'

Latest Public Health England and Cambridge MRC Biostatistics Unit modelling suggests COVID-19 jabs have so far prevented an estimated 7.2 million infections, and 27,000 deaths in England.

Senior Principal Modeller, Dr Paul Birrell, said: "The number of infections and deaths saved by the vaccination programme is not only astoundingly high, but continues to grow exponentially as the vaccination programme continues."


Office for National Statistics (ONS) data show deaths in England and Wales registered in the week ending 18 June were 0.4% above the 5-year average.

COVID-19 accounted for 1.1% of all deaths.

Public Health England data published last week show that of 117 Delta variant deaths, 50 people had received both doses of a vaccine.

Police Investigate Whitty Harassment

Police are investigating the alleged harassment of Chief Medical Adviser Professor Chris Whitty in St James Park, London.

A video of the incident was shared on social media of him being grabbed by two men wanting a photo.

"Officers spoke to all those involved at the time and their details were taken. We are in contact with the victim and the circumstances continue to be investigated," the Met Police tweeted.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was "shocked at seeing the despicable harassment of Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty.

"I condemn the behaviour of these thugs. Our hard-working public servants should not have to face this kind of intimidation on our streets and we will not tolerate it."

School Bubbles

The Guardian reported that automatic isolation for school children in England after positive bubble cases will be scrapped for the autumn term.

If one child tests positive, the whole bubble, which can be a whole year, has to be isolated.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb told Sky News: "We are conducting trials of daily contact testing as a possible alternative to self-isolation."

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Russell Viner, professor of child and adolescent health, UCL, said the reopening of schools with bubbles and testing "appears now to be having very significant unintended consequences in terms of loss of education and social isolation, with impacts upon children’s mental health".

He added: "It is now time to undertake an evidence-based reassessment of our system of controls in schools for September.  We will then have a nearly fully vaccinated adult population – which undoubtedly changes the balance of risks for the controls which we place on our children and young people in schools."

Business Travel

Senior executives can temporarily leave quarantine in England if they are involved in business activities which will bring "significant economic benefit" to the economy.

"This exemption is designed to enable activity that creates and preserves UK jobs and investment, while taking steps to ensure public health risks are minimised," according to the Department for Business.

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


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