The Health Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.
This week the Government announced that people under the age of 30 with no underlying health conditions will be offered an alternative vaccine to the Oxford/AstraZeneca drug where possible. This followed a statement by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation which confirmed reports of an extremely rare blood clots following vaccination with the first dose of AstraZeneca.
Given the very low numbers of events reported overall, there is currently a high level of uncertainty in estimates of the incidence of this extremely rare adverse event by age group. However, the available data does suggest there may be a trend for increasing incidence of it with decreasing age, with a slightly higher incidence reported in the younger adult age groups. The decision is a precaution, and the Government has encouraged the public to continue to take up their offer of the vaccine.
Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs responded to the news: ‘Today’s announcement from the MHRA, and also the EMA, should be taken as reassurance for patients that overall, the benefits of taking the AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19 outweigh the risks… It’s vital that patients understand that the risk of developing blood clots after receiving the AZ vaccine is incredibly low for all patient groups.’
Roadmap out of lockdown
The Prime Minister announced on Monday that the country would go ahead with the next stage of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown. From Monday 12 April, non-essential shops will reopen along with personal care services and indoor gyms. Outdoor hospitality will also open up, including pub beer gardens.
With this the Government confirmed that everyone in England, including those without symptoms, will be able to take a free rapid coronavirus (COVID-19) test twice a week. Alongside vaccine rollout, it is hoped that regular testing will help the reopening of society, helping to suppress and control the spread of variants. Updates to the NHS Covid-19 app will also be made to coincide with the new test offering.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘Around one in three people who have COVID-19 show no symptoms, and as we reopen society and resume parts of life we have all dearly missed, regular rapid testing is going to be fundamental in helping us quickly spot positive cases and squash any outbreaks.’
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation said that lockdown easing must be done cautiously ‘to ensure the NHS has capacity to tackle the huge backlog of treatment, deal with the growing demand for mental health services, and also allow its exhausted and overstretched staff the respite they so desperately need.’ He also welcomed the new commitment on testing but said that there must be resources in place for people to self-isolate if they receive a positive test.
An update to the REACT-1 study, one of the country’s largest studies into COVID-19 infections in England, has been published today. Findings show infections fell by approximately 60% from the last REACT study in February, with only one in 500 people infected. However, the prevalence of infections has now plateaued, showing it is critical everyone continues to follow the guidance and rules to help control the epidemic.
The study also found that the correlation between prevalence of infections and deaths has diverged, suggesting that infections may have led to fewer deaths since the start of widespread vaccination through the Government’s vaccination programme.
NHS Providers said: ‘We need to be alert to a possible rise in COVID-19 infections with lockdown restrictions being eased next week and the ongoing risk from variant strains which now pose the greatest threat to our efforts to control this pandemic. It is absolutely crucial that everyone continues to follow the guidance to prevent a rise in infections and further deaths.’