UK COVID-19 Update: Limited Jabs for Children, NHS Staff Can Work After 'Pings' 

Tim Locke

July 19, 2021

Editor's note, 19 July 2021: This article was updated with the latest information from JCVI, the Commons, and a Downing Street briefing.

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

Limited Jabs for Children

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is not advising routine COVID-19 vaccination of children outside specific at-risk groups.

Children eligible for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine include:

  • 12 to 15-year-olds with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression, and multiple or severe learning disabilities

  • 12 to 17-year-olds who live with an immunosuppressed person

Those about to turn 17 will also be offered vaccination. 

Previous JCVI advice already says at-risk 16 to 17-year-olds with underlying health conditions should have been offered vaccination.

The JCVI said there's currently a lack of real-word data on COVID-19 vaccine safety in children but there have been "extremely rare" reports of myocarditis and pericarditis after Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna jabs in millions of younger adults.

JCVI Deputy Chair, Professor Anthony Harnden, said: "The primary aim of the vaccination programme has always been to prevent hospitalisations and deaths. Based on the fact that previously well children, if they do get COVID-19, are likely to have a very mild form of the disease, the health benefits of vaccinating them are small.

"The benefits of reducing transmission to the wider population from children are also highly uncertain, especially as vaccine uptake is very high in older people who are at highest risk from serious COVID-19 infection.

"We will keep this advice under review as more safety and effectiveness information becomes available."

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi told the Commons the advice has been accepted and vaccination will be put into action by the NHS "as soon as possible". 

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology, University of Nottingham, said: "Offering a COVID vaccine to children based on their own vulnerability or that of someone they live with sounds like a sensible middle ground, especially given that COVID in the vast majority of children will be mild and also vaccine uptake in older people has been good."

At the weekend, plans for the UK's largest ever autumn flu vaccination programme were announced, including secondary school students up to Year 11.

NHS Staff Can Work After 'Pings'

Some fully vaccinated frontline NHS and social care staff in England can still work after being 'pinged' by Test and Trace.

Staff members will be able to work after a negative PCR test and also taking daily negative lateral flow tests for a minimum of 7 days. They'll still have to self-isolate outside of work.

Decisions will be taken on a case-by-case basis by local directors of infection prevention and control, and where absence may lead to a significant risk of harm.

These staff should not work with clinically extremely vulnerable patients or residents.

UK Health Security Agency Chief Executive, Jenny Harries, said: "With the number of cases continuing to rise, it is imperative that we do everything we can to manage this virus and support our NHS and social care services under the strain of increased demand and sustained pressure."

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers said the move had divided opinion among health leaders: "On the one hand, they are worried about their capacity to support patients safely and quickly, particularly given that many staff will already be away for parts of summer as they take overdue annual leave that is owed to them, but on the other hand, the last thing they would want to do is expose their patients and colleagues to an increased risk of catching the virus, so the need for local review and discretion here is important."

At the weekend, SAGE member, Imperial's Professor Neil Ferguson, told the BBC it was  "almost certain" there'd be 100,000 UK daily cases and 1000 daily hospital admissions after restrictions were eased.

In today's daily data another 39,950 UK positive tests were reported, 742 hospital admissions,  and 19 deaths.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosted a news briefing from his isolation at Chequers. He acknowledged that deaths and hospitalisations "are sadly rising".

He added: "These numbers are well within the margins of what our scientists predicted at the outset of the roadmap, and so it is right to proceed cautiously in the way that we are, but it's also right to recognise that this pandemic is far from over," he said.

Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance was asked when the peak of this wave is expected. "Most of the models are suggesting that there should be a peak, and start seeing some sort of either plateau or decrease over August," he said. 

England's Deputy CMO Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said "all the predictions are that if cases continue to rise there will be increased pressure on hospitals". He said NHS "heroes have been flat out for 18 months" and staff were "tired people".

He again urged people to be cautious and said "don't tear the pants out of this".
 

PM's Isolation

Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are self-isolating on what had been called England's 'freedom day' after Health Secretary Sajid Javid's positive test at the weekend.

At first on Sunday morning, Downing Street said isolation would not be required as they were taking part in a non-isolation trial but there was a U-turn within hours following criticism.

Mr Johnson was asked whether he thought he was above the rules.  "Of course I absolutely didn't think that," he said.

Face coverings and social distancing are no longer a legal requirement in England but precautions remain recommended in some situations, such as public transport, but remain a requirement as part of NHS infection control rules.

Many coronavirus restrictions have also been lifted in Scotland and Wales but face coverings remain mandatory.

Wales reported 75% of the adult population is now fully vaccinated. Across the UK, the doubled jabbed figure is 68.5%, and 87.9% have received a single dose.

NHS Digital said six million more users downloaded England's NHS app after the vaccine status COVID pass was added.

People will need to be fully vaccinated to enter nightclubs and other venues with large crowds in England from the autumn, the vaccines minister told the Commons this afternoon.

#NotTooMuchToMask

Health groups, including the BMA and the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges, launched the #NotTooMuchToMask campaign urging people to remain cautious.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said: "It really isn’t too much to ask. We all have a duty to protect each other from the virus and so wearing a mask, following social distancing guidance and continuing basic hygiene measures are just a minor inconvenience and that’s all they are for the vast majority. But we also know those measures can have a major impact when it comes to reducing the spread of the disease and ultimately saving lives."

Cancer Concerns

Macmillan Cancer Support and  YouGov polling of 2156 cancer patients found 21% said they couldn't enjoy day-to-day activities until new COVID-19 cases stopped being reported.

Also, 23% thought it was unlikely that the vaccination programme would allow life to return to normal.

The charity's Chief Executive, Lynda Thomas, said: "We have a bit of a double-whammy where people were already feeling very anxious and now with the rising cases again, combined with a lifting of restrictions… people are thinking ‘does this really make sense?’."

She added "they’re feeling anything but free right now".

Macmillan also estimated that the NHS in England would have to work at 110% capacity for 18 months to catch up on cancer diagnoses.

Nurse Shortages

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is campaigning for England's Health Bill to make ministers accountable for staff shortages. It produced a report detailing 21 times since 2016 that the Government ignored workforce warnings.

RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: "We went into this pandemic with almost 50,000 nursing vacancies in the UK – and the true scale of the shortage is unknown. The Government has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to fix this problem and help a severely depleted workforce. If it doesn’t take this opportunity, it won’t even have the capacity to deliver the law as it is currently set out."

An announcement on NHS pay in England is expected this week. The pay review body delivered its recommendations to the Government 3 weeks ago. The proposed rise is reported to be around 2-3%, higher than the 1% previously offered but lower than the 15% demanded by Nurses United UK.

The deal will not apply to doctors.

Scottish NHS workers recently received a 4% rise.

Long COVID Research

Fifteen new UK studies will begin into long COVID with £19.6m funding.

Projects will cover diagnosis and better understanding the condition, specialist services, treatments, and monitoring.

Professor Nick Lemoine, National Institute for Health Research, said: "This package of research will provide much needed hope to people with long-term health problems after COVID-19, accelerating development of new ways to diagnose and treat long COVID, as well as how to configure healthcare services to provide the absolute best care." 

Among the funding recipients is a Cambridge team investigating cytokine biomarker blood tests for long COVID.

Study co-lead, Dr Mark Wills, said: "We need a reliable and objective way of saying whether someone has had COVID-19. Antibodies are one sign we look for, but not everyone makes a very strong response and this can wane over time and become undetectable.

"We’ve identified a cytokine that is also produced in response to infection by T cells and is likely to be detectable for several months – and potentially years – following infection. We believe this will help us develop a much more reliable diagnostic for those individuals who did not get a diagnosis at the time of infection."

Ventilator Challenge

The Observer reported that £143m of public money has been written off after the 'ventilator challenge', in which firms were encouraged to design and build new medical equipment.

The project set ambitious production targets which were later scaled back as NHS demand for ventilators fell.

Olympics

Team GB said six unnamed athletes and two staff members have come into contact with a positive COVID case ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.

The British Olympic Association said there was a positive case on their inbound flight last week.

Two South African football players were the first to test positive in the athletes' village. 
 

Katie Hopkins Deported

Australia is deporting the commentator Katie Hopkins for breaching hotel quarantine rules.

She boasted about breaches on social media ahead of her planned appearance in Big Brother VIP.

"We will be getting her out of the country as soon as we can arrange that," Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews told the ABC.

Graphics credit: PA Media

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

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