COVID update March 20th, 2021:
So this week there is good news and bad news. The good news is that yesterday saw a record number of vaccinations given of 660,276, and that beat the previous day’s record of 647,378 across the UK. Over half the adult UK population has now had at least their first jab and the number of people completing their second dose is now accelerating rapidly and yesterday exceeded 2,011,070 to date. Nationally, 95% of people aged 65 and over, and 9 in 10 of those who are clinically extremely vulnerable have received their first dose
On top of that the death rate weekly average fell below 100 for the first time, down almost 37% on the week. The number of new Coronavirus cases recorded daily fell to 4802 which is a drop of 8.7% on the week but this slower fall reflects a substantial increase in the number of daily tests particularly amongst secondary schoolchildren. Initial evidence suggests that the return of schools full time has not had a material impact on infection rates with only 0.05% of secondary school students testing positive so far. Across the UK the infection rate is one in 335 people against 1 in 280 last week and that is the lowest since the end of September.
The bad news is that due to production constraints with the AstraZeneca vaccine being produced by the Serum Institute of India and a batch of doses being delayed because of the need to retest stability, there is likely to be a severe disruption on supply in the first 2 weeks of April as things currently stand. The Serum Institute of India is the largest producer of vaccines in the world and some of the supply to the UK is licenced by AstraZeneca to be produced there along with a number of other foreign countries.
As a result of this it is likely that the earlier start on the under 50-year-old cohorts which we had hoped for will not now get underway until mid-April. However, the NHS has said that all 32m people in the 9 priority cohorts are still on course to get their first jab by April 15th and all second doses have been earmarked and will be available within the 12-week window. On that score there was very encouraging evidence from a study of NHS workers who received their vaccination the earliest and are now increasingly receiving their second jabs, that up to 81 days after the first vaccination the risk of being hospitalised by COVID reduces by 80% and the risk of death by 85%. That shows it was absolutely the right call to focus on spreading the vaccine around as many people in the higher risk cohorts as soon as possible rather than wait until everyone had their second booster dose. That evidence is obviously also reflected in the rapid fall in hospitalisations and death rates.
However, over the next 2 weeks the vaccinations should continue at a ‘gangbusters’ rate to coin a favourite phrase of the PM. Yesterday I visited the Brighton mass vaccination centre where they are up to 2500 jabs a day and will continue at that rate until the end of the month but as it stands with the drop off in vaccine are not taking any first dose bookings for April yet. They will be starting second dose vaccinations there from April 13th. The local GP led vaccination hubs will continue to focus on the remaining large Cohort 6 targets and increasingly will be opening up to all those in the other cohorts aged over 50 and redoubling their efforts to get those in the earlier cohorts who have still not been vaccinated to come forward.
The set up at Brighton was pretty impressive as many of you have told me and my Wife witnessed at first hand when she had her jab on Monday. I was shown around along with my colleague Mims Davies, MP for Mid Sussex, and it was great to be able to thank all the staff and volunteers in person, including a very high amount of former cabin crew from Gatwick who were really enjoying their work rather than switching ‘doors to manual.’
The reason for this is that those in the 9 priority cohorts are at a disproportionate risk to the rest of the population. As a rough guide it is calculated that it takes 3548 aged between 50-60 to be vaccinated to avoid one death. But it takes 30,000 30-year o0lds to be vaccinated to prevent one death in that age group.
As it stands the supplies are forecast to be back to normal levels by mid-April and we should then also see the third approved Moderna vaccine come onstream, where the Government has advanced purchased 17m doses. We need to be vaccinating 3.5m people a week to meet the Government target of the whole adult population being vaccinated by July 31st and given yesterday’s rate of over 660,000 in a single day we will be able easily to meet that, even with the interruption next month.
If you are aged over 50 and have not booked your vaccination then you should do so straight away, but if you miss the slots at the Brighton Centre for example you should be chased by your local GP hub before the middle of April.
There has obviously been a lot of discussion about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine given the extraordinary decision of many EU countries temporarily to suspend it. Frankly there is a lot of pretty shoddy political games being played here and they are gambling with the health of their own citizens. Not surprisingly the European Medicines Agency, the equivalent of our much more efficient MHRA, stated that the AZ vaccine is perfectly safe and that there is no evidence for any link with blood clots. As a result, most EU countries have gone back to using it, even though a third of their supply so far has been sitting in fridges with little urgency about getting it into people’s arms as we have done here.
France for example went from saying AZ was unsafe, to saying it would not be used on people over 60, then not used on anyone and now will only be using it on people over 55! In the meantime, over 91% of its population is unprotected, a third wave is looming and over a third of the country is in a tough lockdown with many other EU countries following.
We must not be complacent, and it is not guaranteed that we will not experience a third wave but given that the majority of the adult population has been vaccinated we are in a much stronger position. I would not be in a hurry to book any Continental European holidays soon though even after the ban on non-essential foreign travel is due to end on May 17th. I would not be making arrangements about Continental friends being able to come to stay in the UK either unless their infection rates start to improve dramatically.
I attended several briefings with the Vaccines Minister and experts from the JCVI about concerns over the safety of the vaccines. To be clear there is absolutely no evidence to show any link between taking either of the vaccines and it resulting in a harmful blood clot. Everyone can contract a blood clot and there is no statistical evidence to suggest someone who has had the vaccine is at any more danger than someone who hasn’t in the general population.
Apparently there is a very rare thrombotic condition associated with low platelets that may be slightly more susceptible to being triggered by a vaccine but the numbers potentially affected amount to 6 or 7 out of a total of 11m vaccinated in Europe, or 1 person in 1.5m to 2m. Again, there is no proof at this stage of any causality link. To put it into context the chances of contracting a blood blot from the contraceptive pill are put at between 5 and 12 women per 10,000. The bottom line is the COVID vaccines are probably safer than the other vaccines that we all have routinely as children or to travel to certain countries abroad.
This week’s news from Worthing Hospital is even more encouraging. The total number of COVID patients at Worthing is now down to just 3 including 1 in ITU down from 6 and 1 last week. There has been a halving of patients at St Richard’s to 6 with again no patients in ITU down from 12 total last week. The best news is that there have been no COVID deaths at Worthing in the last week for the first time for months and at St Richard’s only 1.
At the Royal Sussex County, the current figure is a total of 11 COVID patients including 1 in ITU down from 17 including 6 in ITU and sadly a further 3 deaths. As I have said before there are Herculean efforts by the staff there to get back on track with elective operations and work on the inevitable backlog.
As predicted the Coronavirus rates in Worthing moved down sharply after the previous spike caused by outbreaks at 3 establishments. There was a further outbreak at a different location which had to close but again it was isolated and contained rather than reflecting any wider spread in the community. However, it does underline how we also still need to take precautions. As at yesterday the COVID infection rate in Worthing was 57.9 per 100,000 people which is exactly inline with the all-England average. In Adur it is as low as 29.5 though this also marks a marked increase from the low point I reported last week.
- My figures are not entirely up to date given the substantial numbers vaccinated in the last couple of days not yet feeding through to the numbers. However, some 77.72% of Cohort 7 (60-64-year-olds) have now been vaccinated in West Sussex. For Cohort 8 (55-59) it is 42.5% and Cohort 9 (50-54) the figure is at least 26.92% with the letters only having started going out on Tuesday but again to emphasise you do not need to wait for a letter to book at one of the mass vaccination centres. The proportion of care home workers vaccinated is now over 88.45% in the County.
- The Lancing GP hub actually had to cancel some sessions this week not through lack of vaccine but rather through a shortage of patients available to vaccinate. If you really do not want to travel to Brighton (despite the free parking) or one of the other mass vaccination centres it looks likely that you may now get a local call sooner than originally anticipated. Remember, despite the April slowdown we are still on track to have offered all 32m people in the 9 priority cohorts a first jab by April 15th.
- The Lancing Hub will be starting on 2nd doses from the first week of April and the supplies are guaranteed despite the slowdown I have mentioned above. If you had your first jab at lancing they will be inviting you back there so you do not need to do anything and they will be giving out dates when they know which days they can be operating unlike the mass vaccination centres where you book your booster date at the same time as your first jab. This is the same procedure for all the local GP hubs.
There is to be a National Day of Reflection on 23 March organised by the charity Marie Curie to mark a year since the first lockdown and is backed by government.
Everyone is invited to pause to reflect during a minute’s silence at 12 midday on the 23rd and to come together later that evening outside our homes with a light and show support to people grieving the death of a loved one. We will be taking part in this in parliament too.
Stay safe everyone.