Coronavirus, Health, England, Health Policy, Infectious Diseases

Coronavirus, Health

Why is England driving the rise in UK Covid cases?

Why is England driving the rise in UK Covid cases?

10/19/2021 5:42:00 PM

Why is England driving the rise in UK Covid cases?

A drop-off in mask wearing and slow uptake of booster jabs are among the reasons for the continuing growth

However, aGuardian analysisof booster jab data from NHS England – which includes those third jabs offered to the immunosuppressed – found daily figures for the number of jabs given has shown little sign of ramping up since the first figures were released on 1 October. As one expert pointed out, in the week to 12 October the rate of booster shots was about half that seen six months ago for second doses. Meanwhile, charities have expressed alarm that many immunosuppressed people who require a third dose are having difficulty accessing such jabs.

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But it seems unlikely the pace of these jabs is behind the overall rise in cases in England.“We know there is a measurable increase in the number of people who were vaccinated and then become infected after about six months post-vaccination. But that appears to be only true for a relatively small proportion of vaccinated,” said Prof Rowland Kao, of the University of Edinburgh. “Boosters are therefore most important now to protect the individuals, not so important to prevent the rise in cases we see,” he added, noting that low levels of third doses and booster jabs were important when it came to hospitalisations.

Slow rollout of jabs for 12- to 15-year-oldsAll children in the UK over theage of 12 are now eligible for at least one Covid jab, depending on age and other factors. But the pace of the vaccine rollout has come in for criticism. According to official figures, jab rates among 12- to 15-year-olds are three times lower in England than Scotland, with the rate about 14% for the former and 44% for the latter.

This could be important, not least because thelatest data from the Office for National Statisticsshows infections have shot up among secondary school children, with an estimated 8.1% of this group thought to have had Covid in the week ending 9 October. However, when it comes to schools it is also worth noting that a number of interventions have been dropped, including the use of face masks in secondary schools in England. By contrast the Scottish government has confirmed pupils should continue to wear masks in school after October half-term.

Vaccination process by age – graph“The rates are highest and increasing most in schoolchildren, a group with intense mixing at school, no real mask use, low vaccine coverage and minimal attempts to prevent transmission,” said Prof Andrew Hayward, an epidemiologist at University College London, speaking in a personal capacity.

While Hayward noted this group was very unlikely to develop severe illness, Kao noted infections in young people could spill over to other groups.“Vaccination of teens is likely to be more important for [tackling the rise in infections] due to the very high numbers of teenage cases right now – a very different picture to earlier pandemic waves,” said Kao.

Waning immunityThe UK was fast out of the blocks with its mass vaccination programme, which launched in December 2020, though many other countries have since caught up or overtaken. One consequence of its initial lead is that the UK is now one of the first countries to witness the impact of waning immunity from those early vaccinations. An analysis by Public

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HealthEngland presented to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) in September found protection against symptomatic Delta infections started to wane from about 10 weeks for both AstraZeneca (which the UK relied heavily on) and Pfizer vaccines. Beyond five months, protection from two shots of AstraZeneca or Pfizer fell to a little over 50% and 70% respectively. At the time, the agency had too little data to asses waning protection from the Moderna vaccine.

Waning immunity affects the likelihood of infection most of all, with protection against hospitalisation and death proving far more robust. But “breakthrough infections” in the vaccinated can still be severe and even fatal, prompting ministers to approve booster vaccines in the over-50s and vulnerable groups to top up their waning immunity.

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