UK COVID-19 Update: Pregnancy Jab Gap Study, Lockdown Eyesight, Morecambe Bay Hood 

Tim Locke

August 03, 2021

Editor's note, 3 August 2021: This article was updated with new information from Scotland.

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

Pregnancy Jab Gap Study

A large clinical trial to determine the optimum COVID-19 vaccine dose gap for pregnant women begins in England today.

The Preg-CoV study is led by St George’s, University of London, and will look at immune responses to vaccination at different dose intervals, either 4-6 weeks or 8-12 weeks across 13 sites.

Chief Investigator, Professor Paul Heath, said: "Tens of thousands of pregnant women have now been vaccinated in both the US and the UK with no safety concerns reported, but we still lack robust, prospective clinical trial data on COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant women. This includes the best schedule to use to maximally protect them against COVID-19."

He said the trial "aims to fill these gaps in our knowledge and will ultimately inform policy recommendations on the optimal use of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy".

Dr Pat O’Brien, vice president, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: "We hope that this research will help to gain the confidence of pregnant women that the recommendation of vaccination in pregnancy is based on robust evidence."

Scotland Lifting Most Restrictions

Scotland will lift most of its remaining legal COVID-19 restrictions on 9 August as it moves "beyond level zero".

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament: "We will keep this under review, but my expectation is that face coverings are likely to be mandated in law for some time to come."

Working from home will still be advised.
 

Pings

More details were given of the logic changes to the NHS COVID-19 app to reduce 'pings' in England.

The app had been looking for close contacts 5 days before a positive asymptomatic test. That's being changed to 2 days.

From 7 August in Wales, and 16 August in England, fully vaccinated contacts will be exempt from isolation.

Yesterday was the first time cases following England's unlocking on 19 July were expected to be seen in daily case reporting. There were 21,952 new cases, 12% lower than the previous Monday.

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Prof Paul Hunter, University of East Anglia, said: "So as expected, we are not seeing the rapid fall in case numbers that we were seeing last Monday. Whether we see a continuing decline over coming weeks or see cases plateau is not clear but I doubt we will see further rapid falls or indeed increases over the next month."

He added: "The fact that hospital admissions are now falling provides further evidence that the decline in cases in the last couple of weeks was real and not due to an artefact from changing testing or people deleting the NHS Covid app as some have suggested."

An announcement is due later on the next steps in removing restrictions in Scotland from 9 August.

Deaths

Deaths in England and Wales in the week ending 23 July were 7.2% above the 5-year average.

COVID-19 accounted for 3.4% of all registered deaths, the highest for 3 months.

Amber Watchlist 'Scrapped'

Plans for an amber travel watchlist to highlight countries at risk of going on the red list have been abandoned.

A review is underway for the traffic light rules.
 

'Formidable Challenges'

NHS England's new Chief Executive, Amanda Pritchard, has written to staff about the  "formidable challenges" ahead for the health service.

"I do not underestimate the scale of the task we face nor the pressures that NHS staff in many areas are feeling." she wrote.

"But while I am realistic, I am also optimistic."

Wuhan

Everyone living in the Chinese city of Wuhan is being tested for COVID-19.

The first local infections have been recorded in over a year.
 

Kids' Lockdown Eyesight

Researchers reported "a potential increase in myopia incidence, significant decrease in outdoor time and increase in screen time among schoolchildren in Hong Kong during the COVID-19 pandemic".

The observational study of two groups of 6 to 8-year-olds is published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

"Our results serve to warn eye care professionals, and also policy makers, educators and parents, that collective efforts are needed to prevent childhood myopia—a potential public health crisis as a result of COVID-19," the authors wrote.

Oliver Braddick, emeritus professor of psychology, University of Oxford, commented: "The COVID pandemic provided an interesting opportunity to examine whether the imposed changes in lifestyle changed the development of eyesight in primary-age children.  It’s unfortunate, however, that this study could not make the most direct comparison between development of myopia in the pre-COVID and COVID-period cohorts, since the two groups were followed–up over different intervals of time."

He added: "It should be noted that this study was carried out in an urbanised East Asian population, among whom myopia levels are generally higher than in groups of European ancestry."

He continued: "Thus it is hard to know how far the findings from Hong Kong would be mirrored in a European population."

Morecambe Bay Hood 

Image credit: UHMBT

New air-fed full-face PPE hoods from submarine engineers at BAE Systems and family firm Lancastle are being described as "real game changers" by a hospital consultant.

The hoods were tested by University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT) clinicians and are being rolled out onto wards in the next few weeks.

Palliative medicine specialist, Dr Sarah Price, said: "That human ingenuity, the willpower to make something happen, the belief that you can do it and to have that on our doorstep where it makes a real impact for people who work in the local health service, is fantastic. It feels safe to wear the Morecambe Bay Hood. It’s comfortable, easily cleanable and it means that the whole of your face is on show for those interactions that really matter. It will also cut down on the amount of PPE wastage. These things are real game-changers."

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

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