New Covid-19 variant of concern- VOC202102/02: PHE warn it’s vital to stay at home, maintain good hygeine, space and wear face masks

New Covid-19 variant of concern VOC202102/02 is reported by Public Health England (PHE)to weaken neutralisation by antibodies in laboratory experiments. E484K is an additional mutation on this lineage which has only been seen within the UK.

VOC202102/02 has been designated a variant of concern because it arose from a mutation on the Variant of Concern VOC202012/01 and retains the characteristics that led to its parent variant being designated a VOC originally with an additional mutation E484K.

VUI202102/01was first identified by Public Health England (PHE) on 10 January 2021, while investigating a cluster of five cases linked to members of staff from a hospital in Liverpool. So far, 55 cases of this variant have been found. VUI202102/01 is characterised by the presence of the E484K spike protein mutation and a small number of other mutations. It is derived from lineage A.23, which is seen internationally, but the E484K additional mutation on this lineage has only been seen within the UK.

Through genomic sequencing and enhanced contact tracing, PHE have so far identified 21 cases of Variant Of Concern (VOC) 202102/02 across the UK, predominantly centred upon an outbreak in the South West of England. VOC202102/02 is a specific cluster characterised by the presence of the E484K spike protein mutation on the VOC202012/01 SARS-CoV-2 B1.1.7 variant that was first detected in the UK at the end of 2020.

The E484K mutation is present on Variant of Concern first detected in South Africa (VOC-202012/02), as well as a number of other variants sequenced globally. Although there is currently no evidence this mutation alone causes more severe illness or greater transmissibility, it is reported to result in weaker neutralisation by antibodies in laboratory experiments.

Dr Susan Hopkins, COVID-19 Strategic Response Director at PHE, said:

While we expect that the vaccines will still prevent severe illness and deaths, we are taking public health action on clusters of variants with E484K to reduce the risk of spread in our population.

We will be implementing the necessary public health action to mitigate the spread of these variants and will continue to monitor them closely.

It remains absolutely vital that people continue to stay at home where possible, and follow the guidance on face coverings, social distancing and hand hygiene.

Over 4,000 SARS-CoV-2 variants have been identified across the globe. Most of these are not of concern. The UK’s world-leading genomic sequencing programme continues to closely monitor these variants as they arise and develop.

New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) has named one additional SARS-CoV-2 Variant Under Investigation and one additional Variant of Concern.

Covid-19: ‘we need global leadership to scale up vaccine production and achieve vaccine equity’ say UNICEF and WHO chiefs fighting ‘self-defeating’ vaccine nationalism in a ‘win:win/lose:lose’ game

In the COVID-19 vaccine race, we either win together or lose together: joint statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus from NEW YORK/GENEVA, 10 February 2021:

“Of the 128 million vaccine doses administered so far, more than three quarters of those vaccinations are in just 10 countries that account for 60% of global GDP.

As of today, almost 130 countries, with 2.5 billion people, are yet to administer a single dose.

This self-defeating strategy will cost lives and livelihoods, give the virus further opportunity to mutate and evade vaccines and will undermine a global economic recovery.

Today, UNICEF and WHO – partners for more than 70 years – call on leaders to look beyond their borders and employ a vaccine strategy that can actually end the pandemic and limit variants.

Health workers have been on the frontlines of the pandemic in lower- and middle-income settings and should be protected first so they can protect us.

COVAX participating countries are preparing to receive and use vaccines. Health workers have been trained, cold chain systems primed. What’s missing is the equitable supply of vaccines. 

To ensure that vaccine rollouts begin in all countries in the first 100 days of 2021, it is imperative that Governments that have vaccinated their own health workers and populations at highest risk of severe disease share vaccines through COVAX so other countries can do the same.        

The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, and its vaccines pillar COVAX, is fully funded so that financing and technical support is available to lower- and middle-income countries for deploying and administering vaccines. If fully funded, the ACT Accelerator could return up to US$ 166 for every dollar invested.

Vaccine manufacturers allocate the limited vaccine supply equitably; share safety, efficacy and manufacturing data as a priority with WHO for regulatory and policy review; step up and maximize production; and transfer technology to other manufacturers who can help scale the global supply.

We need global leadership to scale up vaccine production and achieve vaccine equity.

COVID-19 has shown that our fates are inextricably linked. Whether we win or lose, we will do so together.”

Dr. Tedros addressed the UNICEF Executive Board on 10 February 2021 at 10:00 am EST. Watch it live on UN web TV: http://webtv.un.org/    

New national scheme provides free PPE for unpaid carers; Minister for Care encourages more local authorities to take part

Two-thirds of local authorities will help to supply unpaid British carers – who do not live with the people for whom they care – with free PPE through a new national scheme, the UK Government announced today, February 10, 2021. These local authorities are busy establising new distribution routes to enable the delivery of free PPE to those who need it, following a successful pilot scheme to establish the distribution method and logistics.

Our national Government notified local authorities and local resilience forums (LRFs) about its extended PPE offer in a letter posted on 25 January – and almost two-thirds are complying.

However, the Minister for Care, Helen Whately is urging more local authorities to join in and support their unpaid local carers ability to access free PPE:

Working with local authorities and voluntary organisations, we have already improved access for carers to testing and supported day services to stay open safely during this second wave. I’m pleased we can now roll out free PPE for those unpaid carers who are advised to use it.

UK Government press release dated 10 February 2021

As key workers, unpaid carers may also access priority testing through the Government’s testing portal if they have Covid-19 symptoms.

Chief Nurse for Adult Social Care, Professor Deborah Sturdy OBE,says:

Unpaid carers provide a fundamental pillar supporting our social care system and have the gratitude of a nation for their work before, during and after this pandemic.

UK Government press release dated 10 February 2021

This new initiative is for local authorities to establish distrubution networks for PPE to reach unpaid care workers and it follows a recommendation from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) social care working-group, that unpaid extra-resident carers should follow the same PPE procedures recommended for domiciliary care workers.

Our Government’s infection prevention-control guidance is continually reviewed and evolves in response to the changing epidemiology of COVID-19 with the emergence of new evidence and science.

Financial support is available for local authorities and LRFs to support local PPE roll-out; following information sessions, the majority of local authorities have joined and more are expected to do so.

Some unpaid carers are also prioritised for the vaccine as part of cohort six, in line with the independent advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, including those who are in receipt of a carer’s allowance or who are the main carer of an elderly or disabled person whose welfare could be at risk if the carer fell ill.

Plans will be developed to further vaccinate other groups, in due course.

10 February 2021

First British-made lateral-flow Covid-19 tests validated for asymptomatic testing receives Government contract to create 20million tests and 200 jobs in Derby

Derby-based manufacturer SureScreen Diagnostics is poised to begin manufacturing its 30-minute antigen test which has passed Public Health England (PHE) laboratory validation but awaits the final stage of clinical trials as the UK Government announces today, February 08,2021, that this rapid lateral flow test is set to strengthen British diagnostics industry resilience.

Detecting the B117 ‘Kent’ variant of Covid-19, the SureScreen test has also been attributed the European conformance CE mark for professional use only, and approval by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Agency (MHRA). PHE laboratory validation stage tests of the SureScreen’s test showed sensitivity against high viral loads at 97.1% and specificity of 99.9%. And lateral flow test effectiveness may be limited to a very high viral load and who conducts the test, according to the World Health Organisation.

Cited in the British Medical Journal, the World Health Organisation cautions:

lateral flow tests are more likely to detect positive cases when viral loads are highest and patients are most infectious—typically, one to three days before the onset of symptoms and during the first five to seven days after the onset of symptoms. WHO’s Essential Diagnostics Test states that negative results should never be used as a basis of decision making.

The British Medical Journal: BMJ 2021;372:n287

The World Health Organization points out that the accuracy of lateral flow tests depends on several factors, including the time from onset of infection, the concentration of virus in the specimen, the quality and processing of the specimen collected from a person, and the precise formulation of the reagents in the test kits.

If the target antigen is present in enough quantity it will bind to specific antibodies fixed to a paper strip enclosed in a plastic casing and generate a visual signal, usually within 30 minutes.

Quality and processing of the specimen are determined to a large extent by who carries out the tests. Public Health England’s evaluation of the Innova test showed that its sensitivity was 79.2% when used by trained laboratory scientists, 73% when used by trained healthcare staff, but only 57.5% when used by track and trace centre staff employed by the pharmacy chain, Boots. But performance should improve with experience, especially among regular users such as people testing themselves several times a week before going to work, says Iain Buchan, professor of public health and clinical informatics at the University of Liverpool.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said:

Rapid lateral flow tests strengthen our national response to the virus significantly, helping us to identify the around 1 in 3 people who are asymptomatic and break chains of transmission in our workplaces and communities. It is excellent to be working with a UK firm to deliver millions more of these rapid tests.

UK Government Health Secretary, Matt Hancock on 08 February 2021

Lateral flow antigen tests work by taking a sample from the nose or back of the throat and testing that sample for the presence of antigens, the signature proteins of the virus. They show results visually, in the same way as many pregnancy tests.  

If the target antigen is present in enough quantity it will bind to specific antibodies fixed to a paper strip enclosed in a plastic casing and generate a visual signal, usually within 30 minutes.

The kind of large-scale community testing that these tests facilitate forms part of the Government’s Covid-19 winter plan to identify those who may be infectious with coronavirus earlier, in order to break the chains of transmission and keep the virus under control. Alongside the rollout of vaccines, rapid regular testing will be central to getting people back to doing the things they love, says our UK Government.

Right-wing apologists for Boris Johnson begin to cover-up his ‘involuntary manslaughter’

Doulas Murray is wrong when he says in the Sun newspaper article published today, January 7, 2021, that: ‘they [the politicians] didn’t know then what they know now about the virus’ as a way to excuse excess deaths because the plain truth is they did know and this fact was explicitly stated in a Parliamentary review of the science of Covid-19 which occurred during Spring 2020.

Boris Johnson repeatedly chose to ignore the scientists’ ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ to take weaker measures against the virus due to his narcissistic attempt to retain popularity.

Similarly, Keir Starmer seems to be reading line written for him without heartfelt conviction which is why he fails to produce winning counter-arguments which makes it difficult to imagine him as a capable barrister. The counter-argument he should present to parliament is that a nationalist vaccination policy is short-sighted because the medical experts claim that the pandemic can only be controlled if we take a non-nationalistic, global, approach to vaccination as new variants arising will prolong it.

Undoubtedly, British politics has cost lives during this pandemic and it makes one wonder if we should seriously consider a new system of governance by experts rather than popularity-seeking career psychopaths.   

Author: NathalieHollingworth – January 07,2021

Covid-19 debilitates 53,000 NHS staff in hospitals where patients enter at 1/30 seconds and one person is dying every eight minutes from coronavirus in California

NHS staff are struggling with the effect of the new strain of Covid-19 as 53,000 NHS staff are unable to work due to illness or isolation caused by this deadly, highly infectious virus according to NHS England boss, Simon Stevens who says this is double the usual number of NHS staff who are usually off work at this time of year due to illness.

Stevens claims there has been a 15,000 increase in patients since Christmas which is enough to fill 30 hospitals thanks to the Government, once again, weakly bending to popular demand and psychologists; people who have no expert insights into epdidemiology. There are now 75% more patients in hospital with Covid-19 than during the April 2020 peak which is causing the NHS to struggle and its staff to suffer as the nurse-patient ratio in critical care decreases from 1:1 to 1:3.

Stevens also expresses concern that one quarter of patients are considered non-priority as they are under 50 years of age so cannot be vaccinated unless they are considered to be at risk of death due to government policy-making.

As the virus is naturally mutating, in its natural aim to survive the vaccine, UK residents will need to continue behaving as though they are infected with the virus, to guard against unintentional transmission until scientists can be confident that it has been beaten. At the moment the signs are not good.

On May 6, 2020, the UK was the first country to pass 30,000 deaths (the same number which died from the bubonic plague) from Covid-19, and one year afer the virus’s entry into the UK, the UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab will be instigating Covid-19 tests on Monday 18 January 2021, for the first time in addition to quarantining all people flying into the UK for ten days which is something that should have been implemented a year ago but is now considered essential to prevent further new variants which might be vaccine-resistant entering our island. Our one easy advanage in this pandemic is our island geography – we could easily have attained zero cases if we had closed our borders at the beginning. But why take advice from someone on low pay when you can pay someone lots of money to make bad decisions?

140 people per minute are currently receiving the Covid-19 vaccine and 150 million doses are expected to be given in England next week, Stevens says, but this rate can only be maintained if people continue to behave in a way that prevents transmission. Scotland has has delivered around a quarter of a million doses and Ireland and Wales have each delivered more than 100,000. Raab claims that the UK Government aims to vaccinate all adults by September 2021.

10 more mass vaccination centres will open on Monday, joining the seven currently open, including two cathedrals: Blackburn and Salisbury which is a brilliant idea because they are big and airy which will help to reduce the chances of transmission while waiting and UK residents may even have their nerves soothed by live organ-playing. This increased capacity will help deliver the second dose which is essential for gaining immunity, faster.

Stevens says that this is a unique period in the NHS history and the situation is precarious so UK residents are being advised to behave with the utmost caution so that the NHS can continue its work while understaffed because we don’t want to find ourselves in the Californian situation where medics are having to decide the likelihood of a patient surviving Covid-19 before admitting them to hospital due to a lack of resources, resulting in them literally leaving people to die.

Lockdown throughout England will begin tonight until mid February 2021 to prevent the NHS becoming overwhelmed in 21 days due to virulent Covid19 variant

UK PM, Boris Johnson announced today, 04 January 2021, that England will go into its third national lockdown tonight, due to an alarming 30% surge in Covid19 hospital patients this week who are also presenting with more serious symptoms from the new, more virulent variant that emerged recently. Primary and secondary schools, and universities were instructed this afternoon, to revert to online teaching tomorrow while the Government is in the process of delivering laptops and inernet connections to those children without, so that all children may continue their education.

Boris’s announcement follows Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon forcing her country into lockdown last night. Ireland’s First Minister, Arlene Foster is currently considering extending her Irish schools’ shutdown until he end of January and Wales’s First Minister, Mark Drakeford admits his cabinet will be reviewing their current Level 4 restrictions this week.

On a positive note, today is also the day that 82 year old Brian Pinker became the first person to receive the recently approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, 2million of which are expected to be distributed, every week. The UK Government has bought 100million Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines and this is thought to be enough to provide herd immunity and epidemiologists estimate that the effect of the vaccine bringing herd immuniy could, realistically, occur towards the end of 2021.

The Department of Health and Social Care predicts that every care home resident should be vaccinated by the end of January 2021. Margaret Keenan, the first person to receive the Pfizer-BoiNTech innoculation on 8 December, has now received her second vaccine which completes her treatment.

Please read the National Government lockdown rules for England published today on the Gov.uk website, and note that leaving home without a reason described in his document would make a person eligible for a fine starting from £200.00.

Today, saw Police Scotland arrest and charge 60 year old Scottish MP, @MargaretFerrier with alleged culpable and reckless conduct for apparently breaching coronvirus restrictions when she travelled and attended Parliament having tested positive for Covid19 between 26 and 29 September 2019.

Covid-19 is natural justice for man’s selfish exploitation of nature so will this pandemic change the way we work forever as Boris once-upon-a-time promised?

Unethical consumerism fuels pandemics so with the advent of a possible end in sight for the Covid-19 pandemic, will the most intelligent beings in the world use their greatest asset to forge a way forward that is different, to help prevent further pandemics and environmental catastrophes, or will people just revert to their self-destructive consumer ways, post-Covid?

This pandemic should teach us that the way we treat animals and indeed all the natural world has serious consequences as we face many more pandemics if we don’t change our ways to protect our environment and health which includes: caring for the planet by taking personal responsibility for our carbon footprints, ending air, light and noise pollution, changing our diets to vegetarian so those environments that breed disease will no longer exist, limiting our travel through more home-working and introducing a Universal Basic Income which is currently being piloted in Brighton, Norwich and other progressive local authorities which realise that life is no longer sustainable as it was before the pandemic lesson.

People often don’t like change but I feel confident that most people would rather avoid a future plagued with plagues which would be the consequence of unlimited, selfish capitalism. The only way for people to live in harmony with the natural world is through a welfare model which places health first, because you cannot have wealth without it, and this is one lesson that most of the world should have learnt from mother nature’s pandemic response.

Economists also know that business studies academics have for decades, been teaching management students that the age of technology would enable people to work fewer hours providing more health and leisure time to enjoy so isn’t it about time Government’s listened and acted so that wealth becomes more evenly distributed?

As the UK Met Office reveals record-breaking levels of rain and heat during 2020, let us hope that during the 2021 new year, Government’s will use their brains to take a fresh look at their policies and redesign them for a disaster-free future!

Covid deaths increase to 981 on 30 December 2020 as Oxford vaccine is licensed and UK Health Secretary makes Covid19 Update statement in Parliament which is recalled from Christmas recess

[Editors note: Matt Hancock agreed to requests to consider prioritising teachers for vaccination, as schools are vectors of transmission, teaching staff will be expected to take responsibility for testing, contingency plans are published on Gov.uk website, Trust is established to investigate the effects of long-Covid including in children who do not display symptoms and 3/4 of UK will be placed in tier four lockdown from midnight tonight as Covid 19 spirals out of control, as revealed in recalled Parliamentary statement today]:

Ministerial Statement – Covid-19 Update 1300: 30 December 2020

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care:

The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine which gained approval today is a world-first for Britain and is the biggest single stride against the pandemic.

Within weeks, the scientists of Oxford University Jena institute like the British code-breakers, before them, partnered with AstraZeneca who have done a brilliant job of manufacturing a safe vaccine and at speed by cracking a modern day Enigma code.  It is affordable, can be stored at normal fridge temperatures and is a Great British success in the British way – it is another example of Britain as a life-sciences superpower.

We have focused on the vaccine as a way out of this pandemic.

From Monday 4 January 2021, 100 million doses are on order which is enough to vaccinate [50 million people] every adult in the UK with two doses. So, everyone who wants one will get one. There will be 540,000 doses from Monday with tens of millions from AstraZeneca arriving from the beginning of February. Although there will be two doses up to 12 weeks apart, people will get protection after the first dose which will accelerate the speed that people can get the first dose and bring forward the day when we can lift restrictions.

We also have to take some difficult decisions as the NHS is under significant pressure with 200,000 patients in hospital at the moment, and the threat to life is real – as among health professionals in the NHS – I want to thank the NHS staff and Chief Medical Officer working on the wards over Christmas – we owe it to them to fulfil our responsibility to keep the virus under control.

There are 53,135 new cases, most of which are believed to be the new variant so it is necessary to include tier 4 measures to wider areas.  From one-minute past midnight tomorrow morning, almost all the country will be in tiers three or four.

It is absolutely necessary due to the number of cases seen.

Today, is a day of mixed emotions – joy that a vaccine programme in Britain is the first and sorrow for the deaths caused, and determination to stick at it to the end. 2020 came with great challenges but we have hope in 2021.

As we move more areas to tiers 3 and 4, I want to say thank you to the NHS and institutions.

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Leicester South, Labour (Co-op):

Should we be making full use of retired NHS staff to help with vaccinations and how many vaccinations do we have today?  People are travelling across the country to receive care. We have lost more than 600 healthcare workers due to this virus.  Will he set clear target for when all NHS and care home staff will receive the vaccine?  This is a race against time – the new variant is much more transmissible so surely it will be harder to bring infections numbers under control?  We are in a national emergency and our NHS in becoming overwhelmed. We need not put more lives in jeopardy when the end is so near.  Let’s not repeat the same mistakes.

SOS:

He’s quite right.  There are problems thrown-up with the challenges of this virus but it is also right that this vaccine approval means the end is in sight but we have difficulties to overcome; there are significant pressures on the NHS. People are sometimes being taken across the country to receive care when the system is under pressure.  I can confirm, thanks to the decision-taking today, we can accelerate the vaccination of NHS staff. We have 530,000 vaccines across the UK available for deployment in first week on January and the NHS is constantly increasing and expanding the scale of its operation.  Where rates are very high and continuing to rise, it is on all of us and how everybody behaves. By taking personal responsibility by not coming into contact with others unless it is absolutely necessary that is how we will get through the next few weeks together before the vaccine saves us.

Jeremy Hunt, South West Surrey:

Why in mid-winter, when NHS is under so much pressure, shouldn’t our entire focus be on getting the vaccine out and stopping the NHS collapsing and placing the NHS staff at the front of the queue?

SOS

I share the same desire to keep the virus suppressed while getting out the vaccine.  We can roll out the vaccine faster by getting the first dose into people faster.

On education, the Secretary Of Education is setting out details shortly about the delicate balance of keeping children in education while not adding upwards pressure on the R.

Dr. Phillipa Whitford, SNP: We welcome the authorisation of the AZ vaccine which can be stored in fridges which will help poorer countries.  But there are reports of shortages of oxygen in NHS hospitals and the government only takes action when the virus is soaring, when it’s too late to take control.  So, as cases are rising everywhere, does the SOS think the whole of England should go under tier 4 restrictions?

SOS

I have just announced that most of England should go under T4 restrictions.  It’s been a pleasure working with Jean Friedman in Hollyrood to ensure that this vaccine supported by UK science can be deployed properly to everyone across the whole of the UK, according to clinical need.

Siobhan Baillie, Stroud: social media films of hospitals have been misinforming the pubic about space in hospital. Can the minister ensure the public receive authoritative sources of information?

SOS: yes

Munira Wilson, Twickenham: If the NHS suffers from insufficient staff, why build the Nightingale hospitals?

SOS: the Nightingale hospitals are here as back-up (decommissioning stories are wrong) should they be needed which will require changes of working patterns for staff. I will absolutely look into BionTech test. Pressures in Essex are very significant and I will look into any request for military assistance as the whole armed forces have done so much this year in the roll-out of testing and we will draw on the sharp ingenuity and manpower of the armed forces when we need them

Jim Shannon, DUP: devolved administration – time scale for completion of vaccination programme?

SOS: This UK vaccine is being deployed across the UK fairly, according to clinical need, and roll out of the Oxford vaccine will start on 4 January but I cannot say when it will be completed, that depends upon the manufacturing schedule but we have ordered enough vaccine to ensure that every adult who wants one will be able to get one across the UK.

Ruth Edwards, Rushcliffe:

SOS: We have new hope but also difficult weeks between now and when it is rolled out. It is especially tough in Nottingham which is in T4.

Tulip Sadiq, Hampstead: 1,500 armed forces personnel are deployed in schools to rollout mass testing which means schools get the support of less than half a solder each – are more resources required for this huge operation?

SOS: the SOE will set out in his statement shortly – armed forces support is not the only support for mass testing rollout in schools. I look forward to seeing the extra effort put in by schools across the country.

Mark Harpur, Forest of Dean

SOS: the NHS can deliver at the pace mentioned.

Kevin Jones, North Durham: Many elderly residents are still waiting for their vaccine such as a 94 year old resident has not received his so when will they be received so I can reassure them?

SOS: I will arrange a meeting with vaccine roll out manager.  7/10 vaccines have gone to those over 80 and rest to NHS and care home staff. So we are managing to deploy the Pfizer jab to older people.

Mark Menzie, Flyde: we have lots of smaller care home – when will they receive vaccines?

SOS: it’s harder to get Pfizer to care homes due to its storage requirement which will become much easier with the AstraZeneca vaccine and I will stress the importance of getting them to care homes asap.

Lillian Greenwood, Nottingham South: of the self-employed, 2/5 cannot get help from schemes?

SOS: it isn’t possible to save every job but we have to do everything we can and will ensure someone from the Treasury will contact you to discuss this asap.

Steven Brine, Winchester: is only thing holding us back vaccine supply?

SOS: Vaccine batches have to be checked to ensure they are in pristine condition as the vaccine has to be stored properly and we have 500,000 AZ jabs ready to go on Monday in addition to the Pfizer vaccine second doses.  We can significantly accelerate the vaccination programme with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Vicki Foxcroft, Lewisham: speed of innoculation programme?

SOS: speed of roll-out will be determined by speed of manufacture.  We need to receive more approved doses and are working very closely with AZ on this.  The NHS has a plan and is ready to go.

Bob Blackman, Harrow: many elderly residents had to queue for more than an hour to wait for their vaccine but now need to know when should they receive second?

SOS: Those who had appointment before 4 Jan should come forward now. I haven’t heard about the queuing problem so will arrange a meeting with the vaccine rollout manager with you.

Martyn Day, Scotland: longer Covid consequences in the young and healthy – is this the UK Govs plan?

SOS: we haven’t set this out yet while the general approach is to vaccinate the vulnerable as soon as possible then lift restrictions but the exact timing depends upon the roll-out of the vaccine and its effect on reducing transmission.

Craig Mackinlay, South Thanett: how will you ensure that staff shortage won’t obstruct vaccination roll-out?

SOS: yes that is our goal – we changed the law to enable more people to give vaccines and have a big training programme on the go now.

Dr Rupa Huq, Ealing Central & Acton: Oxygen shortages in hospitals?

SOS: easier transportation of Oxford vaccination makes it easier to deliver to the community and hubs, optimising speed of delivery of vaccine.

Robbie Moore, Keighley : schools testing support?

SOS: SOE – armed forces supporting schools mass testing.

Dame Diana Johnson, Kingston: over 600 Health & Social Care staff have died – vaccination in next couple of weeks?

SOS: we will vaccinate the NHS and social care staff as soon as we can based upon clinical need – NHS staff are in priority group two and social care-home staff are in group one. We are trying to do this as quickly as we can.

 Rt Hon Chris Grayling, Epsom & Ewell:

SOS: we are trying to understand where these transmissions are happening and will be happy to talk to you about this.

Steve McCabe, Birmingham: 1000 hours are required to do lateral-flow tests – what can you do?

SOS: we have given out more support and PPE – I am happy to arrange a meeting with you and the Care Minister about the time taken to do these vital tests.

Sir Robert Neill, Bromley: staffing issues: I know retired doctors and nurses who would be willing to help but who have not been contacted?

SOS: if these people haven’t been contacted, I will check and get back to you – we are keen to hear from retired NHS professionals as we are organising their reintroduction into service.

Emma Lewell Buck, South Shields: we are in T4 yet the virus is spreading?

SOS: rates in South Shields are going up sharply. The evidence-base is that it is in areas in T4 for the longest where we are seeing a reduction, such as Kent.  And, the new variant is much harder to suppress. ¾ of the country is now in T4 following today’s announcement from the Secretary of State.

SOS: we all have to take personal responsibility – everyone should behave as though they have the virus – it’s not just about rules that have been voted upon by the house.  Liverpool got the rate right down but it’s now increasing due to the new variant.

Dame Cheryl Gillan, Chesham & Amersham:  There are escalating rates of Covid and hospital admissions and healthcare staff are working around the clock – the trust is established to help with long-Covid at Stoke Manderville – what support is there for help with long Covid which are very severe is some cases?

SOS: we are putting effort into research into long Covid which can be debilitating to people’s lives.  The single most important thing to do is understand the causes.

Feryal Clark – Enfield: [advice to] children?

14:00hours

SOS: follow public health messages. Help on its way: by testing in schools and the vaccine which will help to protect the most vulnerable, before moving onto the under 50s, where the risk of death is low but who are highly likely to contract the disease.

Adam Afriyie, Windsor:

SOS: symbol of hope and means to an end to remove restrictions – timing: speed of rollout is accelerated by the new vaccine but although we may forecast manufacture we cannot predict how quickly it will be delivered.  I am highly confident that by the spring we will be through this.

Clive Efford, Eltham: what advice do Sage experts say schools play in the transmission?

SOS: it is the best way to protect lives and remove restriction by clinical need.

Daisy Cooper, St Albans: when will teachers receive vaccine?

SOS: clinical need first, then important call for next priorities for both teachers and unpaid carers which we will then need to set out.

Jeremy Corbyn, Islington North: The effects of Corona have fallen on the most vulnerable – deaths of people with disabilities and those with learning difficulties and children – can SOS assure us that he will support those with disabilities and children’s mental health difficulties due to Covid?

SOS: Yes: in accordance with priorities.

Meg Hillier, Hackney: NHS staffing sufficiency?

SOS: NHS workforce – we have increased permanent workforce by more than 13,000 in last few months and I am working with NHS and others on the staffing problem.

Suzanne Webb, Stourbridge:

SOS: in what I hope will be my last answer of the year, I would like to thank NHS staff who have done more than in any other year since its formation and social care staff who have gone out of their way to give help to others – there is no limit to my gratitude – their attitude inspires me and so many other people.

The wider impact of closing schools on children’s development would be significant. Taking all these factors into account we have made a number of changes to help break chains of transmission, to keep education setting as safe as we can.

Accordingly, we will open primary schools as planned on Monday 4 January except in a small number of areas where infection rates are highest where we will implement a contingency plan where only children of frontline workers and vulnerable children will access schools but the majority of schools will open on Monday. Ongoing testing for primary school staff will continue in mid-January and self isolation will occur where students and staff test positive or the virus.

Because the Covid infection rate is particularly high in the secondary school age group, we will take the time to mass-test as many staff and students as possible; military personnel will be on standby to provide in-person support if required in schools.  Those in exam years will be at the head of queue so that by 18 January, schools will be open in most areas.  Exam year groups and students in isolation will continue to receive lessons remotely.  We will support remote educationa by delivering 100,000 devices during the first week of term in addition to 560,000 devices to be distributed to children who need them the most.

With schools, our best line of attack is to keep schools open – I am more determined than ever that children should not damage their life chances of education.

Shadow Secretary of State, Kate Green:

The Government has lost control of the virus so is SOS confident that the measures announced today will control the virus and will he publish SAGE’s advice on his issue?  Those primary and secondary schools that will not be opening will be a cause of great concern for families.  What plans does he have to keep all children in schools and ensure every pupil will have a device and connectivity?  Can parents be furloughed if they have childcare needs?  Clinically extremely vulnerable people will be concerned about returning to schools. Does SOS believe that all school staff should be prioritised to protect them and safeguard children’s education?  Is there a credible (contingency) plan if the exams cannot go ahead?  How is SOS making exams fair?  I welcome the decision to delay the return of children to university, to later in January. Children and young people are paying the price for the government losing control of the virus.

SOS: extra support: rolling-out the largest mass-testing exercise to ensure children can return to school not just equipment due to all secondary school settings opening on 4 January but mass vaccination programme as they return back to secondary school which is a real opportunity to beat back his virus. SAGE will publish its advice soon.  Contingency framework has been a public document for a number of months which makes quite clear that there a number of schools in the framework and we must continue to deliver remote education in those schools.  And, exam year children will return even if in contingency areas.  We are doing everything to ensure that vulnerable children can attend school, working with local authorities, police and schools.  Pupils taking exams in January will continue to do so.

Robert Halfon, Harlow: What risk assessment has the SOS taken on the effect of school closures such as eating disorders which have increased four-fold partly due to isolation?

SOS: we will resist knee-jerk reactions to close schools and colleges due to the impact of lost learning. We have commissioned EPI to do a close study on the impact, especially among exam year cohorts.

Carol Monoham, Glasgow NW: SOS making last-minute decisions that leave schools with no time to plan.  Ongoing testing but we know these testing spaces are busy, tightly-packed environments and this new strain has a higher propensity to infect children so following these groups each teacher must be a priority to vaccine.

What steps is he taking to deliver online learning and recorded classes?

SOS: we are in a rapidly changing situation and have to adapt responses – we do recognise this new strain requires a different approach and that is why assessment testing in schools is not optional because schools are unique environments and likewise I want to see all teacher vaccinated and I am pleased that we are in a position that primary schools are opening on 4 Jan and secondary school’  exam cohorts  will re-enter on 11 January and all other pupils on 18 January.

James Cartlidge, South Southwark: if we vaccinated teachers faster it would reduce pressure of schools and schools closing?

SOS: I agree but schools have to be prioritised across clinical need priorities but I hope that as this progresses, we will be looking at this?

Daisy Cooper, St. Albans & Lib Dem Deputy Leader: race against time to stop educational inequality. Shocking that mass testing is being rolled out 4 months after schools opened?

SOS:   £78m funding of mass-testing regime in secondary schools and half-million extra devices on top of 50,000 delivered on 4 Jan and 100,000 in the following week. Please pay attention to my earlier statement.

Mike Wood, Dudley:

SOS: It is about helping families and the whole community because we will be educating millions of children every single week with £78m fund but some school will have problems so I am grateful that armed forces will help ensure implementation of testing in all secondary schools and colleges.

Matt Western, Warwick and Leamington: 12-17 years olds are vector spreading so will SOS prioritise online teaching, vocational testing and staff for vaccination – what support will be provided?

SOS: exams for those youngsters taking imminent BTEC qualification will occur. It is not my remit to determine who will be receiving the vaccinations but I hope that as we work through the groups most vulnerable, those in our educational settings will be looked upon in a most positive way.

Arron Bell, Newcastle under Lyme: would you provide rapid testing of staff and students who have come into contact with people with Covid?

SOS: yes to reduce the number in self-isolation.

Yvette Cooper, Pontefract: why has government not given funding to deliver mass testing in schools and why is the support they receive always too late?

SOS: I will ensure that my private office will pass the information onto you as soon as it is available.

Felicity Buchan, Kensington: will London be in contingency framework?

SOS: after a two week period, will be a review to see those areas in contingency framework which will be ready to move out and will be guided by public and scientific advice. Sweeping decisions cannot be made and we must minimise disruptions as much as possible.

Kevan Jones, Durham: lateness of government communication – who will support schools and colleges and what will happen to data without a local based plan – will government be making the same mistakes of the national test and trace system – local plans need to be in place?

SOS: it is important to work with local directors of public health to identify where more Covid cases may develop and develop more rapid testing right across the country; extra support is being provided where schools and colleges have particular problems. Data: positive test data will be fed immediately into the Test & Trace system which is also shared with Local Authorities.

Caroline Noakes, Romsey & Southampton North: parents need certainty about if they may need additional childcare – please assure constituents that this plan will provide them with certainty?

SOS: I hope the staggered times gives confidence.

Karin Smith, Bristol South: I don’t have confidence – how will we know that it is safe to return children to school?

SOS: with this new Covid strain, we have to go so much further to give parents and carers extra confidence that it is safe to return to school and root out those with the disease.

Suzanne Webb, Stourbridge: will you thank school workers?

SOS: yes. Manchester children benefit from brilliant schools, teachers have done an amazing job and we are asking them to do more because absolutely everything possible must be done to keep schools open to give children education.

We have seen the gap widening between children from wealthy and poor backgrounds as the gap is widening significantly what will you do?

SOS: she is right. Education is powerful tool to close disadvantage gap. We want to see part of the spending review happening over multiple years and I must confess to being old-fashioned so I will do everything I can to take extraordinary measures to keep schools open and that closures will be for the minimum time due to isolation.  Covid Catch-up funds will help drive up standards and reduce the attainment gap.

Ruth Edwards, Rushcliffe: real-time dashboard of data?

SOS: we will look at it how to share information as best as possible – I will listen to how we can continue to drive reforms and improvements in the school system for now and decades into the future

Lucy Powell, Manchester Central: Some primary schools won’t open but government has not published a list of schools – this is not acceptable – no word on how exams year can proceed on a level playing-field?

SOS: you always complain

Nigel Mills, Amber Valley: what are the criteria for school closure?

SOS – we will publish details of LA’s in contingency areas on gov.uk website later today and it will be an absolute last resort result to manage Covid infections.

Rachel Maskell, York: how will government support children sitting tests this year?

SOS: this unique year requires unique steps in grading so well will ensure that there is advanced notice on testing areas to ensure children are in the best possible position to succeed.

Essex, Steven Metcalfe: less well off students may miss out on their education what extra support will be provided for quality remote learning?

SOS: additional action will need to be taken which will lead to the temporary closure of schools over the coming term, more than the previous term, which is why we are distributing over a million laptops and a national academy to support online learning to support children and a Covid catch-up point.

Andrew Gwyn, Denton: Autumn was too disruptive for too many – access to laptops.

SOS: as earlier said, a million laptops. 99% of schools were able to open even in areas of high infection rates and mass testing regime will help to endure this.

Jonahtan Gullis, Stoke on Trent: would government send out cost-price textbooks to the most vulnerable children?

SOS: brilliant idea – I would be happy to meet you to discuss this.

Dr Rupa Huq: stronger guidance and funding?

SOS: I am not in a position to provide independent schools with funding to rollout testing but we are providing them with testing equipment and other equipment to conduct a testing regime for years 7 and above.

Rob Butler, Aylesbsury: question about safety of schools

SOS: at every stage, for safety of pupils and those who work in schools, it’s at the heart of decisions made and it is a difficult-important balance, so I think the measure goes so far to gain confidence that they are going into safe and secure environment.

Mike Amesbury, Weaver Vale

Yes, school will be open on Wednesday.

Flick Drummonds, Meom Valley: would he urge Department of Health to prioritise testing of teachers?

I could urge the DOE to prioritise those who work in schools but clinical trials have not been completed to ensure the vaccine is safe for children under the age of eighteen so it would not be ethical to give to children under the age of 18.

Could I urge him to press his colleagues in government to get teachers tested as a priority?

SOS: yes.

Kim Johnson, Liverpool: How many of the laptops have reached those in need only 1/6 of children on free school meals?

SOS:  Liverpool is one of the areas experiencing high infection rates. Over half a million laptops have been distributed and many hundreds of thousands more will be distrubuted over the coming weeks.

Esther McVey, Tatton: questions about educational assessment

SOS: unless in exceptional circumstances, exams are the best methods of assessment and ethnic minorities tend to do better in exams.

Head-teachers are willing and able to be partners but Secretary of State has said that some primary schools won’t open next week, what will be the criteria and when will those schools be given advanced warning and thereby be treated with respect?

SOS: our command centre looks at tiering and it is as part of that health structure that those decision get made, working with Health Secretary and myself and Education Secretary discussions about when to close schools – the Gov.uk website provides notice and warnings are currently published on that website.

Sir David Amess, Southend West: how will armed forces work with schools?

SOS: where school struggle with testing, armed forces will step in.

Ian Byrne, Liverpool: Liverpool has 100,000’s working class children who have suffered due to the ineptitude of this government, a complete failure to listen to teachers concerns – will he listen to teaching profession about what they need?

SOS: we always do and aim to help children with the most disadvantaged backgrounds and so we will be delighted to meet you and your educational professionals.

William Wragg, Hazel Grove: this house will be adjourned on 11 Jan – what message does this send to schools?

SOS: we all recognise the great burden we pay to public servants. As a former chief whip, I think it is best to be focused on the job in hand which for me is jobs and schools.

Justin Madder, Elsmere Port: how many pupils of schools that will be closed due to the virus, won’t have access to online learning?

SOS: we have looked at the needs of schools for additional equipment which is why we have expanded provision from 200K to over one million laptops which is ongoing and will continue over the coming weeks.

Dr Julian Lewis, New Forest East: children who have virus without symptoms can still transmit?

SOS: yes, he is right, which is why testing is so important.

Matt Rodda, Reading East: armed forces support for schools is meagre?

SOS: we would only provide armed forces personnel in exceptional circumstances when schools would not be able to set up regime otherwise – we’ve given schools lots of money to conduct tests.

20:16hours: Claudia Webbe, Leicester East (Labour): schools are not safe: the government acted the way it did because it put wealth before health, as long as the city of London kept trading. But, health is wealth – it is a false choice [to say otherwise].  The government could have invested in online learning and the internet so students could study from home but by handing 12bn to people linked to the Tory party they put donors first. There is still time to save many thousands of lives – implement zero Covid approach: a national lockdown, listen to the scientists – we are only as safe as the most vulnerable amongst us – government must now ensure that those most at risk get the vaccine first but also the minimum wage workers who get us through this pandemic – the delivery man has more right to the vaccine than a millionaire [gasps of horror from the opposition]. The government would place the communities at risk by opening schools – I implore the government to change its direction.

20:32hours: Jackie Doyle-Price, Thurrock (Conservative): schools not businesses are spreading the virus and as the virus spread our post office had to close which means that Thurrock residents have not received any mail for three weeks – I want the government to consider whether the measures are effective at delivering the outcome we want?

Nathalie Hollingworth, 30.12.2020.

AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine authorised for emergency supply in the UK

30 December 2020 07:00 GMT


Working with the UK government, first vaccinations to begin early in the New Year

Regulatory interactions continue around the world for next approvals
 

AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for emergency supply in the UK, with the first doses being released today so that vaccinations may begin early in the New Year.

The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has provided authorisation for emergency supply of COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca, formerly AZD1222, for the active immunisation of individuals 18 years or older. The authorisation recommends  two doses administered with an interval of between four and 12 weeks. This regimen was shown in clinical trials to be safe and effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19, with no severe cases and no hospitalisations more than 14 days after the second dose.

AstraZeneca is working with Public Health England and National Health Service England to support the deployment and roll out of the vaccine in the UK, in line with the MHRA and the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation dosing recommendation. The Company aims to supply millions of doses in the first quarter as part of an agreement with the government to supply up to 100 million doses in total.

Pascal Soriot, Chief Executive Officer, said: “Today is an important day for millions of people in the UK who will get access to this new vaccine. It has been shown to be effective, well-tolerated, simple to administer and is supplied by AstraZeneca at no profit. We would like to thank our many colleagues at AstraZeneca, Oxford University, the UK government and the tens of thousands of clinical trial participants.”

Matt Hancock, UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: “This is a moment to celebrate British innovation – not only are we responsible for discovering the first treatment to reduce mortality for Covid-19, this vaccine will be made available to some of the poorest regions of the world at a low cost, helping protect countless people from this awful disease. It is a tribute to the incredible UK scientists at Oxford University and AstraZeneca whose breakthrough will help to save lives around the world. I want to thank every single person who has been part of this British success story. While it is a time to be hopeful, it is so vital everyone continues to play their part to drive down infections.”

Professor Andrew Pollard, Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and Chief Investigator of the Oxford Vaccine Trial, said: “The regulator’s assessment that this is a safe and effective vaccine is a landmark moment, and an endorsement of the huge effort from a devoted international team of researchers and our dedicated trial participants. Though this is just the beginning, we will start to get ahead of the pandemic, protect health and economies when the vulnerable are vaccinated everywhere, as many as possible as soon possible.”

The decision to approve the vaccine was taken under Regulation 174 of the Human Medicine Regulations 2012, which enables rapid emergency regulatory approvals to address significant public health issues such as a pandemic. This is the first authorisation for this vaccine.

The MHRA’s decision was based on independent advice from its Commission on Human Medicines following a rolling review of trial data that included an interim analysis of the Phase III programme led by the University of Oxford. The data were also published in The Lancet on 8 December 2020.

Additional safety and efficacy data for the vaccine will continue to accumulate from ongoing clinical trials. AstraZeneca continues to work with regulatory authorities around the world to support their ongoing rolling reviews for emergency supply or conditional marketing authorisation during the health crisis. AstraZeneca is also seeking Emergency Use Listing from the World Health Organization for an accelerated pathway to vaccine availability in low- and middle-income countries.

AstraZeneca is working with its global partners to continue building manufacturing capacity of up to three billion doses of the vaccine globally in 2021 on a rolling basis, pending regulatory approvals. The vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions (two-eight degrees Celsius/ 36-46 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least six months and administered within existing healthcare settings.

AstraZeneca continues to engage with governments, multilateral organisations and collaborators around the world to ensure broad and equitable access to the vaccine at no profit for the duration of the pandemic.

AZD1222
AZD1222 was co-invented by the University of Oxford and its spin-out company, Vaccitech. It uses a replication-deficient chimpanzee viral vector based on a weakened version of a common cold virus (adenovirus) that causes infections in chimpanzees and contains the genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein. After vaccination, the surface spike protein is produced, priming the immune system to attack the SARS-CoV-2 virus if it later infects the body.

The interim analysis for efficacy was based on 11,636 participants accruing 131 symptomatic infections from the UK and Brazil Phase III trials conducted by Oxford University. As announced on 23 November 2020, the primary efficacy endpoint based on a pooled analysis showed that the vaccine was 70.4% (confidence interval: 54.8% to 80.6%) effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 occurring more than 14 days after receiving two doses of the vaccine. A secondary efficacy endpoint of prevention of severe disease demonstrated no cases of severe infections or hospitalisations in the vaccine group.

The safety data published so far is from over 20,000 participants enrolled across four clinical trials in the UK and Brazil and South Africa. The Lancet publication confirmed that AZD1222 was well tolerated and that there were no serious safety events confirmed related to the vaccine. The participants were from diverse racial and geographic groups who are healthy or have stable underlying medical conditions. This analysis provides safety data on 74,341 person-months of follow-up after first dose (median 3.4 months) and 29,060 person-months of follow-up after two doses (median 2.0 months). The overall reported rates of serious adverse events were 0.7% in the vaccine group and 0.8% in the control group.

In addition to the programme led by Oxford University, AstraZeneca is conducting a large trial in the US and globally. In total, Oxford University and AstraZeneca expect to enrol up to 60,000 participants globally.


© AstraZeneca 2020

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