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What to do about the UK’s unvaccinated? No 10’s Covid dilemma | Coronavirus

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A growing sense of frustration with people who have not been vaccinated against Covid has been creeping into the speeches of senior government figures from Sajid Javid to Boris Johnson in recent weeks.

The health secretary has accused those who have chosen not to take up the offer of free vaccination of taking up hospital beds, damaging society and potentially harming their families as well as themselves.

The prime minister also began rolling the pitch for a possibly tougher approach towards the unvaccinated when he spoke of the need for a “national conversation” about how the NHS would cope with the Omicron wave and further new variants.

“I don’t believe we can keep going indefinitely with non-pharmaceutical interventions, restrictions on people’s way of life, just because a substantial proportion of the population still, sadly, has not got vaccinated,” he said.

Given the libertarian instincts of today’s Tory party, No 10 has followed the path of allowing people to choose freely whether or not to get vaccinated, unless they want to work in the NHS and the care sector. A mandatory vaccination policy would almost certainly result in a challenge to Johnson’s authority from his backbenches. Those same MPs, however, are also opposed to national restrictions that hit all of society to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.

If another Covid wave were to push the health service to the point of collapse, Downing Street would face two possibilities: lock down everyone or reserve the harshest restrictions for the 5 million people who have declined to be vaccinated in the hope it would ease the burden on hospitals and slow the spread of an outbreak. Javid has estimated that 90% of the most severely ill in hospital at the moment are unvaccinated.

Some countries have already decided that choosing not to be vaccinated should carry a cost, given the impact on wider society of Covid spreading more quickly among the unvaccinated and the greater potential for hospitalisation.

Greece and France went down the Covid passport route as early as July. Israel and Denmark also adopted pass systems early, phased them out, and then brought them back when infections were surging.

In Italy, proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test has been required for many indoor public places since October and a new super-green pass was added in December that is only available to people who have been vaccinated or recovered from Covid in the last six months.

All moves by the UK government so far to encourage vaccination have been firmly rooted in persuasion and “nudge” theory. It has been almost all carrot and no stick, even when it comes to Covid passports. Ministers insist they should not be called “vaccine passports” because people will be allowed to show a recent lateral flow test result instead.

The approach of encouragement is continuing, with a campaign texting everyone to “get boosted now”. But there also now appears to be an attempt to introduce an element of social stigma to vaccine refusal, and a move to suggest it is people’s civic responsibility to get jabbed.

No 10’s view is that there is still scope to drive up vaccination rates further – particularly when it comes to the booster – and that this is preferable to using vaccination status as a dividing line. Almost 90% of over 12s have now had a first dose, 82% have their second and 56.5% are boosted.

One major missing piece of the puzzle, currently under consideration, is a strategy that gets to the bottom of why 5 million people remained unvaccinated, especially those in communities with an ingrained distrust of authority.

No 10 even turned to an artificial intelligence (AI) company earlier in the year to determine the causes of vaccine hesitancy, but Whitehall sources acknowledge there is still a lack of understanding about how many of the unvaccinated remain so because of entrenched anti-vax ideology, misconceptions that could be turned around, a lack of time or transport to get to vaccine centres, or just apathy.

One option being weighed is the idea of greater personal outreach – learning from the personal touch of GPs who have phoned all their most vulnerable vaccine refusers. Ministers are even thinking about teams of door-to-door vaccinators who could deliver shots on the spot.

If this last push were not work, however, and further restrictions are deemed necessary, Johnson may have to confront a difficult choice, unpalatable to his party, about whether everyone – the vaccinated and the unvaccinated – are all in it together any more.

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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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