UK COVID-19 Update: Teen Vaccinations, Jabs vs Delta Variant, Kids' Long COVID, Vaccinologist Barbie

Tim Locke

August 04, 2021

Editor's note, 4 August 2021: This article was updated following a JCVI announcement and a Downing Street briefing.

These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about today.

Teen Vaccinations

As expected, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended COVID-19 vaccination for 16 and 17-year-olds. Previously, only those with underlying health conditions, or family risks, were included.

Ministers have accepted the recommendations and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be offered.

England's Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: "I have accepted their expert recommendations and I have asked the NHS to prepare to vaccinate those eligible as soon as possible.

"The JCVI have not recommended vaccinating under-16s without underlying health conditions but will keep its position under review based on the latest data.

"Those aged 12 to 15 with severe neuro-disabilities, Down’s Syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities, as well as people in this age group who are household contacts of individuals who are immunosuppressed, are already eligible for vaccination. JCVI will continue to review data and provide updates on at risk groups aged 12-15 and whether any additional groups will be added."

Parental consent will not be needed for 16-year-olds.

England's Deputy CMO Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said with schools going back in Scotland earlier than the rest of the UK "there is no time to waste".

He told a Downing Street briefing: "The NHS has been kept informed of what has been being deliberated by JCVI, it has been preparing for multiple permutations and options for very many weeks now, and I would expect that this programme will start in a very short number of weeks, as opposed to any longer than that."

He added: "It is my confident expectation that this is well achievable within one term."

He was asked about younger children. "We have asked JCVI, to continue to review that list on an ongoing basis. And my sense is that it is more likely rather than less likely that that list will broaden over time as data become available," he said.

Advice on when to offer the second vaccine dose will come later, JCVI said.

It cited US data that suggest, "in males aged 12 to 17 years, 9.8 cases of myocarditis were reported per million first doses given. This rises to 67 per million after the second dose. Most people recovered quickly".

Commenting via the Science Media Centre,  Russell Viner, professor of child and adolescent health, UCL, said: "Vaccinating all 16 and 17-year-olds with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is a welcome and sensible step given what we know about COVID-19 risks and the safety of vaccines in this age group and where we are in the pandemic."

He added: "Any decisions about vaccinating children and teenagers must balance risks and benefits and this is never easy. Vaccinating older teenagers is a reasonable first step and will be important for young people themselves in the return to school and also benefit wider society including the elderly and younger children. This step is particularly useful now as high vaccination levels are concentrating infection amongst the unvaccinated children and teenagers. 

"We need further safety data before we consider vaccinating younger teenagers."

Kids' Long COVID

Long COVID is rare in children, according to King’s College London Zoe COVID Study app data from more than 250,000 five to 17-year-olds reported in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

Researchers found 1.8% had symptoms lasting more than 8 weeks. In those aged 5 to 11 the illness lasted an average of 5 days, and 7 days for 12 to 17-year-olds.

The most common symptoms in children were headaches, tiredness, sore throats, and loss of smell.

Lead and senior author, Professor Emma Duncan, said: "It is reassuring that the number of children experiencing long-lasting symptoms of COVID-19 symptoms is low. Nevertheless, a small number of children do experience long illness with COVID-19, and our study validates the experiences of these children and their families."

First author, Dr Erika Molteni, added: "We found that nearly a quarter of symptomatic children testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 during the UK’s second wave did not report core symptoms, suggesting the UK testing policy needs reconsideration."

Jabs vs Delta Variant

Fully vaccinated people have an around 50 to 60% reduced risk of infection from the Delta variant, including asymptomatic cases, according to the latest preprint data from Imperial's REACT study.

Overall prevalence in unvaccinated people was 1.21% compared with 0.40% in fully vaccinated individuals.

Five to 24-year-olds accounted for half of all infections.

Viral load was also lower in vaccinated people.

After previously being weakened, more of a link was again seen between infections and hospitalisations.

The data cover June 24 to July 12.

Imperial's Professor Steven Riley told a news briefing: "These data support the idea that there is uncertainty about what might happen in September when schools return and we have increased indoor mixing, because of the patterns of infection that we saw driving the growth."

Antibodies

Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey data for the week beginning 12 July show the percentage of UK adults estimated to have SARS-CoV-2 antibodies from jabs or infection ranged from 90.7% in Northern Ireland to 93.6% in England.

Rhiannon Yapp from ONS said: "Although highest among older ages, we have seen antibody levels increase among younger ages as more receive their vaccines."

NHS Anti-vaxxer Abuse

The BMA and the Royal College of Nursing are among signatories of a letter to The Times calling for an end to abuse of NHS staff by anti-vaxxers.

The problem was highlighted by social media abuse experienced by Royal College of Midwives Chief Executive Gill Walton for encouraging pregnant women to take up COVID-19 vaccination offers.

She said: "Too many health and care workers have faced abuse from a small but vocal minority, from COVID deniers to anti-vaxxers.”

She added: "Our midwives, doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners, everyone working for the NHS, has the right to safety and respect in the workplace."

Kidney Transplants

Kidney Research Fund Northern Ireland said it was "devastating" that the Belfast Trust had to turn down kidneys for transplant at the weekend due to COVID-19 pressures.

A hospital spokesperson said: "Over the weekend, Belfast Trust were offered kidneys from within the national pool. However, due to COVID pressures we had to decline these organs.

"The trust can confirm the kidneys were transplanted elsewhere in the UK. No patients were scheduled for this surgery and therefore no cancellations took place."
 

New Drills

The risk of COVID-19 from dental appointments could be reduced by switching to lower speed drills, according to University of Leeds research.

Tests using a dummy found that using an electric drill rather than an air drill led to a 99.98% reduction in aerosol spread.

Co-author of the study published in the Journal of Dental Research , Professor David Wood, said: "This robust scientific evidence addresses how the risks associated with the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus via dental drills can be successfully managed.

"The recommendation we make in the report will help more people access the dental care they need, but haven’t been able to get since early 2020."

Vaccinologist Barbie

Prof Dame Sarah Gilbert/PA Media/Mattel

Mattel has created a Barbie doll of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine designer Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert.

"My wish is that my doll will show children careers they may not be aware of, like a vaccinologist," she said.

"I am passionate about inspiring the next generation of girls into Stem [science, technology, engineering, and maths] careers and hope that children who see my Barbie will realise how vital careers in science are to help the world around us," she added.

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

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