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Vaccination as the price for taking part in society | Letters



John Harris may be correct to frame the avoidance of vaccination by a significant portion of the UK population as the consequence of mistrust in authority or government (Understanding, not judgment, should shape our response to those who remain unjabbed, 2 January). However, I and many millions of others do not trust this government at all, but we still accepted vaccination. Social factors may explain the existence of vaccine avoidance, but they do not justify it. Under UK laws, no degree of inequality allows a car driver to transfer to the right side of the road in protest against a mistrusted government.

True freedom is the liberty from being harmed by others, regardless of whether those actions are deliberately harmful. The freedom to “innocently” spread disease is not a fundamental right. The enormous human cost of supporting unvaccinated and seriously ill patients in hospital is having a direct impact on all our lives. It is time to take the moral high ground: celebrate the vaccinators and publicly avow that vaccination is good, that being vaccinated is a public duty and that failure to comply by any citizen without adequate medical reasons is a dereliction of that public duty.
Dr Patrick Byrne
Bermondsey, London

John Harris refers to the supposed “coercing [of] people into getting vaccinated using stringent Covid passports”. Having a Covid passport allows people to access certain defined services; if they don’t want to be vaccinated they won’t have access, but no one is forcing them to such access. In any case, there are many actual constraints on people that are a vital part of society, such as wearing seatbelts. No one is being coerced into being vaccinated; this is simply the price for taking part in normal society.
Dr Richard Carter
Putney, London

Maybe the unvaccinated do deserve our empathy, not judgment, but understanding and feeling their pain doesn’t solve the problem. The fact remains that they endanger themselves but, much more importantly, everybody else through their potential viral transmissibility. Insisting that access to certain venues and activities are limited to the fully jabbed might indeed imply a negative judgment, but surely avoiding this possible offence is much less important than protecting the national community as a whole?
Dr Bill Jones
Beverley, Yorkshire

John Harris risks oversimplifying people’s understanding of why some of us – around five million adults according to his article – remain unvaccinated in the UK. While there is plenty of evidence that people from particular communities mistrust the public institutions that wish to see them vaccinated, this certainly isn’t the case for all five million of us.

As a white, middle-class public servant, I can’t really be considered “historically mistrustful” of institutions, nor am I reckless, but I do have my own sincerely held reasons for not wanting to be vaccinated, none of which are derived from “online cults”.

Actually, I don’t want judgment or empathy, I just want there to be safe spaces for debate to take place, where people need not fear being labelled cranks. This includes within national newspapers like the Guardian. As it is, Mr Harris merely continues to promote the prevailing discourse – that in an ideal world everybody would be vaccinated.
Paul Martin
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

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



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


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



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



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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