UK COVID-19 Update: Jabs' Antibody Coverage 'Close to 100%', 'Supercharging' NHS for Winter

Tim Locke

July 15, 2021

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

Jabs' Antibody Coverage 'Close to 100%'

Close to 100% of fully vaccinated people had COVID-19 antibodies in May, according to the latest preprint results from the Imperial-led REACT-2 study.

Protection fell to 98% in those aged 80 and over with the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, and to 84% for Oxford/AstraZeneca.

After a single vaccine dose, antibodies peaked around 4-5 weeks later and then began to decline.

Overall, 61% of adults in England had antibodies in May, up from 14% in January, and 6% in November.

Vaccine coverage was 60% lower among Black ethnic groups compared to White ethnicity, and 40% lower among previously infected people compared to those who'd not had COVID-19.

Lead author, Professor Helen Ward, said: "Results of this very large study show the substantial impact of the vaccination programme on antibody positivity in adults. However, it’s concerning that coverage of vaccines is uneven with people in some groups and areas less likely to have been vaccinated and therefore may remain relatively unprotected from future spread.

"We need to continue and intensify efforts to reach these groups with vaccination, and to ensure other protective measures are in place."


The NHS COVID-19 app triggered 520,194 'ping' isolation alerts to people in England who'd been in close contact with a positive case in the week to July 7. That's 46% higher than the previous week.

Test and Trace reported 194,005 positive cases that week, an increase of 43%, and the highest figure since the end of January.

Latest Public Health England surveillance data show the hospital admission rate has risen to 4.43 per 100,000 population from 2.76 per 100,000 population the previous week. The highest admission rates are in people aged 85 and above.

Case rates are at the highest level since January.

Patients Still Need Face Coverings

Patients will still need to wear face coverings in healthcare settings in England after lockdown restrictions are lifted on Monday.

Chief Nursing Officer, Ruth May said: "Face coverings and social distancing measures will remain in place across healthcare settings so that the most vulnerable people can continue to safely attend hospital, their GP surgery, pharmacy, or any other healthcare settings for advice, care, and treatment."

Earlier, NHS Providers had criticised the lack of a clear message about infection control, which Chief Executive Chris Hopson said was already causing problems: "A significant number of trust leaders have contacted us this week to say they are also seeing more confrontations with a small number of very determined members of the public who refuse to follow the guidance." 

The National Police Chiefs’ Council issued guidance to officers to continue to use masks in England from Monday. "As employers, chief constables have a responsibility to do everything they can to keep their staff and officers safe," said the group's Chair, Martin Hewitt. 

'Supercharging' NHS for Winter

The Academy of Medical Sciences is warning of "a lethal triple mix" of COVID-19, flu, and RSV this winter that "could push an already depleted NHS to breaking point".

Respiratory viruses were low under lockdown but are expected to rise as restrictions are lifted.

Modelling estimated there could be between 15,000 and 60,000 flu-related deaths this winter.

The Academy report's recommendations include "supercharging" the NHS with additional staff and bed capacity, and expanding COVD testing to cover flu and RSV.

Professor Azra Ghani, expert advisory group member, said: "Our modelling suggests a summer peak of COVID-19 infections with subsequent local outbreaks over winter – though we can’t completely rule out another winter wave. Whilst we expect the peak in deaths to be considerably lower than last winter, under some scenarios we could see hospital admission rise to similar levels. Furthermore, with a high level of virus circulating in the community there is a risk that the number of people living with long COVID could double.

"Our modelling of a reasonable worst-case scenario also shows we could be dealing with around twice the levels of influenza and RSV this autumn and winter, causing widespread ill health and even greater pressures on the NHS."

Commenting on triple testing via the Science Media Centre, Dr Alexander Edwards, University of Reading, said: "The technology is certainly available to detect panels of pathogens. This kind of approach has great appeal, with anyone who has respiratory symptoms being tested with a single swab, which is analysed in an instrument that can detect all the most important illnesses.  Their treatment (and health advice, self-isolation rules etc) can then be tailored to the infection detected.  It will help enormously to spot the more serious cases, and to ensure people get the best healthcare."

Health Education England has been asked by ministers to begin a review of long-term strategic needs for the health and social care workforce.

200 Long COVID Symptoms

UCL-led international research published in The Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine journal found people with long COVID reported more than 200 symptoms affecting 10 organ systems.

Survey data were collected from 3762 participants from 56 countries.

Senior author, neuroscientist Dr Athena Akrami, said: "Memory and cognitive dysfunction, experienced by over 85% of respondents, were the most pervasive and persisting neurologic symptoms, equally common across all ages, and with substantial impact on work.

"Headaches, insomnia, vertigo, neuralgia, neuropsychiatric changes, tremors, sensitivity to noise and light, hallucinations (olfactory and other), tinnitus, and other sensorimotor symptoms were also all common, and may point to larger neurological issues involving both the central and peripheral nervous system.

"Along with the well-documented respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms, there is now a clear need to widen medical guidelines to assess a far wider range of symptoms when diagnosing long COVID."

Jab Texts

NHS England is sending 650,000 text messages encouraging people to have their second COVID-19 jab 8 weeks after their first.

Head of the vaccination programme, Sir Keith Willett, said: "As we approach 19 July, there has never been a more important time to get jabbed."

Across the UK, more than two-thirds of adults are now fully vaccinated, and nearly 9 in 10 have received a first dose.

The BBC reported "complication of AstraZeneca vaccine" was listed as a contributory factor on the death certificate of Radio Newcastle presenter Lisa Shaw, who died in May.


Rise in Lockdown Alcohol Deaths

Alcohol-specific deaths increased by 20.0%, and alcoholic liver deaths rose by 20.8% under lockdown in 2020, latest Public Health England data show.

Although pubs and clubs were closed for much of the year, alcohol sales were up 24.4%, and there was a rise in higher-risk drinking.

Rosanna O'Connor from PHE said: "Liver disease is currently the second leading cause of premature death in people of working age and this is only set to get worse if the COVID pandemic results in a long-term increase in drinking.

"Tackling harmful drinking must be an essential part of the COVID recovery plan."

Travel Changes

Welsh Health Minister Eluned Morgan said she regretted the UK Government's decision to remove the self-isolation requirement for fully vaccinated adults returning from amber list countries. "However, it would not be practical for us to introduce a separate border health policy," she said.

She added: "The need to move the Balearic Islands and British Virgin Islands from the green to the amber list after just 3 weeks shows how difficult it will be to plan ahead this summer."

Learning Disabilities

People with learning disabilities in England are five times more likely to be admitted to hospital with COVID-19, and eight times more likely to die from the disease compared with the general population, according to an observational study in The BMJ .

The authors conclude: "People with learning disabilities have markedly increased risks of hospital admission and death from COVID-19. Prompt access to COVID-19 testing and healthcare is warranted for this group, and prioritisation for COVID-19 vaccination and other targeted preventive measures should be considered."

In a linked editorial, Ken Courtenay from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Vivien Cooper from the Challenging Behaviour Foundation, write: "While the focus was on older adults, whose mortality rates shocked the nation, a hidden calamity was also taking place among people with learning disabilities."

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


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