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Fourth Covid jab not yet needed, JCVI says, as booster protecting older people | Coronavirus

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A fourth Covid vaccine shot is not yet needed, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said, as booster shots are still providing strong protection against severe disease from Omicron in older people.

Latest figures show that, for the over-65s, protection against hospitalisation remains at about 90% three months after the third jab, according to the UK Health Security Agency.

Protection against severe disease from only two doses of the vaccine drops to about 70% after three months and 50% after six months.

It means the JCVI has recommended the government continues to prioritise the third jab booster drive for all adults for now, rather than beginning to provide a fourth vaccine dose to vulnerable groups such as the over-80s or care home residents.

It marks the UK’s departure from Israel’s vaccination strategy, which is pursuing fourth shots for the over-60s and medical staff.

“The current data show the booster dose is continuing to provide high levels of protection against severe disease, even for the most vulnerable older age groups,” said Prof Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI’s chair of Covid-19 immunisation.

“For this reason, the committee has concluded there is no immediate need to introduce a second booster dose, though this will continue to be reviewed.”

He added the data is “highly encouraging” and emphasises the value of a booster jab.

“With Omicron continuing to spread widely, I encourage everyone to come forward for their booster dose, or if unvaccinated, for their first two doses, to increase their protection against serious illness.”

The data is based on a UK Health Security Agency study looking at booster doses in the over-65s, among the first to be eligible for a booster from the campaign’s launch in mid-September.

Data on booster protection from mild symptomatic infection shows it is less long-lasting, however, dropping to about 30% by about three months.

The JCVI said the main aim of the vaccination campaign is to prevent severe disease – not prevent all infections, which would require an unsustainable level of repeated vaccinations.

It comes after the UK on Friday reported 178,250 new infections, a 47% climb on the 121,371 new cases reported on Friday two weeks ago. (Reported figures tended to be lower over the holiday period.)

A further 229 Covid-related deaths were recorded on Friday, a 67% rise on the 137 deaths reported on Friday two weeks ago.

Omicron continues to put huge stress on the NHS, with the health service in England experiencing the highest number of Covid absences since the vaccine rollout, with more than 40,000 staff unable to attend work on two days in the past week. This has led to claims hospitals are “simply not safe”.

The percentage of the eligible population vaccinated with a third or booster dose is now 61%, according to government data, compared with 90.2% for at least one shot and 82.8% for two doses.

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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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