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End mass jabs and live with Covid, says ex-head of vaccine taskforce | Coronavirus

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Covid should now be treated as an endemic virus similar to flu, and ministers should end mass-vaccination after the booster campaign, the former chairman of the UK’s vaccine taskforce has said.

With health chiefs and senior Tories also lobbying for a post-pandemic plan for a straining NHS, Dr Clive Dix called for a major rethink of the UK’s Covid strategy, in effect reversing the approach of the last two years and returning to a “new normality”.

“We need to analyse whether we use the current booster campaign to ensure the vulnerable are protected, if this is seen to be necessary,” he said. “Mass population-based vaccination in the UK should now end.”

He said that ministers should urgently back research into Covid immunity beyond antibodies to include B-cells and T-cells (white blood cells), which could be used to create vaccines for vulnerable people specific to Covid variants: “We now need to manage disease, not virus spread. So stopping progression to severe disease in vulnerable groups is the future objective.”

His intervention comes as it was revealed more than 150,000 people across the UK have now died from Covid. Official figures published yesterday recorded a further 313 deaths, the highest daily number since February last year when the last peak was receding. It takes the total recorded deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test to 150,057. Meanwhile, NHS officials are warning that patient safety has been compromised this winter because of a crippling health and social care staff shortage that requires a million additional workers by the next decade. Writing in the Observer, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said that the pandemic had exposed “its weakest links”.

“There is a clear, regrettable, impact on quality of care and, in the most pressured parts of the system, a worrying increase in patient safety risk,” he writes. “It is now very clear that the NHS and our social care system do not have sufficient capacity. That asking staff to work harder and harder to address that gap is simply not sustainable. That we need a long-term, fully funded, workforce plan to attract and retain the extra one million health and care staff the Health Foundation estimates will be needed by 2031.”

Chris Hopson said the pandemic had exposed the ‘weakest links’ in the NHS.
Chris Hopson said the pandemic had exposed the ‘weakest links’ in the NHS. Photograph: Jonathan Hordle/Rex/Shutterstock

Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, also called for action: “The pandemic has highlighted workforce pressures but they were never new. We can’t solve them overnight, but we have a moral duty to NHS and care staff to look them in the eye after the hell of the last two years and say a long-term plan is in place.”

Hopson said some NHS trusts outside London would see Covid hospitalisations rise even higher than their previous record peak last year. “There are already a number of trusts whose covid hospitalisation levels are at 100% of their January 2021 peak,” he said. “That’s before they are anywhere near their current peaks. These organisations are likely to be 10 days or two weeks away from their peak this time round.”

He also said he understood that as many as 40% of care homes had stopped taking new admissions in the last week, making it hard for hospitals to discharge patients. Stephen Chandler, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said that social care was in a “national emergency” because so many staff were off sick.

A government spokesperson said “historic amounts of funding” were being provided for NHS backlogs and social care. “Hospital admissions are rising, however this is not yet translating into the same numbers needing intensive care that we saw in previous waves,” they said. “We’re increasing NHS capacity by building onsite Nightingale hubs, as well as creating 2,500 virtual beds where people can be safely treated at home.”

Dix’s remarks on ending mass-vaccination come as the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) ruled that fourth doses were not currently needed because most older people who had received boosters were still well-protected against Omicron, three months after the booster campaign began. The UK Health Security Agency said protection for over-65s was about 90%, three months after a booster jab. The JCVI’s deputy chair, Professor Anthony Harnden, said the committee was monitoring the impact of Omicron on older and vulnerable people on a weekly basis.

83-year-old Rachel Gershom and other senior citizens dance at a vaccination party in Netanya, Israel, before they receive a fourth dose of vaccine.
83-year-old Rachel Gershom and other senior citizens dance at a vaccination party in Netanya, Israel, before they receive a fourth dose of vaccine. Photograph: Ammar Awad/Reuters

A debate is unfolding over fourth doses. Last week, Israel became the first country to embark on a fourth round of Covid vaccinations, for over-60s and healthcare workers who had their third jab at least three months ago. Greg Clark, the Tory chair of the Commons science and technology committee, said a fourth dose of vaccine should be considered for healthcare workers. “The UK Health Security Agency found that the impact of a third dose against transmission of Covid wanes after 10 weeks,” he said. “So, given the staff shortages in the NHS from self-isolation and the fact that NHS staff received their booster from mid September, it would be worth the JCVI considering whether a further dose would help reduce absences among frontline staff.”

Dix was instrumental in helping pharmaceutical firms create the Covid vaccines, which have transformed the risk presented by the virus to most people. He said he supported the current booster campaign, but a “new targeted strategy” was needed to get the UK to a position of “managing Covid” as an endemic virus. “Firstly we should consider when we stop testing and let individuals isolate when they are not well and return to work when they feel ready to do so. In the same way we do in a bad influenza season,” he said.

Dix said the government should support research and analysis of how effective vaccines had been at producing “memory B- and T-cell immunity” – parts of the immune system that recognise Covid – and particularly how they worked for over-60s and vulnerable groups with underlying health conditions. “With this data in hand we should influence vaccine manufacturers who have vaccines that have shown the most durable cellular responses to develop an Omicron and a Delta variant vaccine to cover the current mutation lineages,” he said, adding that Professor Paul Moss and the Covid Immunology Consortium had provided “excellent groundwork” for this.

Professor Eleanor Riley, professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Everything depends on whether another variant comes up.

“A fourth dose or second booster of the existing vaccine probably isn’t going to achieve very much. The evidence is that immunity against severe disease is much longer lasting. The only justification for doing a second booster for the majority of the population would be if we saw clear evidence of people, five or six months after their booster, ending up in hospital with severe Covid.”

Health experts are also concerned that the take-up of the booster vaccine last month was driven by the public’s wish not disrupt their festive season. Now that fear has gone it has removed some of the drive to take up the vaccine. In addition there is a widespread perception that Omicron is milder and less worrying, added Simon Williams of Swansea University. “We call ‘variant fatigue’ which translates as people saying ‘this is what viruses do; we just need to get on with our lives.’ It’s not great from a public health perspective.”

However, Professor Helen Bedford of University College London, a child health expert, warned that there was a danger in lumping diehard anti-vaxxers with people who have nagging doubts about getting a vaccine. “If you do that you will miss the chance to persuade those who have genuine concerns but who could change their minds and get vaccinated. It does not help to criticise them all as talking mumbo-jumbo.”

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year

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In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart



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17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus

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Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer

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Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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