Experts and health professionals on the rise in infections in secondary-age children, on whether the worst effects of the pandemic may not just be over yet, and on the lack of face coverings at the Conservative Party Conference.
First published in October 2021.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY...
... on the huge rise in infections in secondary-age children as only 9% in the age group have been vaccinated in England so far.
Sarah Crofts, Head of Analytical Outputs for the COVID-19 Infection Survey, Office for National Statistics (ONS):
“There is a mixed picture of infection trends across the UK once again, with the largest increase seen in England. This has been largely driven by a notable increase among secondary school pupils, likely reflecting their return to school in September.”
Professor Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics, The Open University:
“However you look at it, this is a huge increase, and it clearly follows from schools having reopened and, crucially, from vaccination rates of children in that age group still being low.”
Dr Helen Salisbury, GP Principal, Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer in Communication Skills, Medical Advisor to the Health Experience Research Group, University of Oxford, and Member of Independent Sage:
“Sending children back to school without masks, extra ventilation, bubbles and isolation policies was a total recipe for ensuring everybody gets exposed.
“I don’t understand why we are not getting on with [the vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds]. It seems urgent. Urgent to protect these children, and to protect their families, and to protect their education. We should have started this in the summer.”
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY...
... on the possibility that the worst effects of the pandemic in the UK may not just be over yet.
Professor Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Centre for Immunity, Infection & Evolution and Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences & Informatics, University of Edinburgh:
“We need to finish the job and give the maximum number of jabs. Unfortunately, our vaccination programme has stalled and rates are regularly dropping below 100,000 doses a day. That’s lower than many other countries, including many in Europe. I fear we are now storing up trouble for the future.
“As we return more and more to normality, contacts will return to higher levels and that will create more opportunities for the virus to be transmitted.
“It is unlikely some of the worst predictions that were made over summer about the course of the pandemic over autumn and winter are going to happen. So there are some grounds for optimism. However, I would certainly be much more comfortable if we could get case numbers to start going down in the near future.”
Professor Martin Hibberd, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases in the department of Pathogen Molecular Biology, London School Of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine:
“In winter, cases of respiratory disease go up and we need to have as many vaccinations as possible to keep that increase from becoming a real problem. However, there has been no sign of vaccination programmes beginning at schools and that is surely a missed opportunity. We need to vaccinate as many pupils as possible before November, but not much appears to be happening. That is definitely something to worry about.”
“I have been predicting a strain worse than the Delta variant for a while but it hasn’t happened. Hopefully this means the Covid-19 virus may be constructed in such a way it cannot change much more than it has done so far. Nevertheless it is clear we need to be aware that a serious new variant could appear, and keep a close watch in order to pinpoint its appearance as soon as possible.”
Professor Neil Ferguson, Head of the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology in the School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London:
“We can’t afford to have too much of a winter surge before the NHS is very heavily stressed.
“We need to be a little less cautious in accelerating vaccine rollout, particularly second dose rollout, in teenagers where possible, because we know that one dose of these vaccines against Delta has a really minor impact on transmission. It’s only after two doses that we start seeing a significant impact. We need to accelerate those second doses coming into the population.
“[Boosters] will have an impact, and they will have a bigger impact on transmission as more and more people get them, but our modelling suggests it will be somewhat limited.
“I’d like to see us be a little more aggressive in rolling out booster doses because the sooner we can, the sooner we’ll reap the benefits of that and I think the data supports that not just after six months, probably after four months after second doses, you still get a very big effect of booster doses.”
Some people in government seem to believe the pandemic is all over.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY...
... on why the UK’s vaccination rate has slowed down so much that it is now behind other European countries such as France, Italy, Spain.
Dr Kit Yates, Author and Mathematical Biologist, Senior Lecturer, Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Bath:
“It’s a common misconception that the UK’s vaccination programme has allowed us to open up more successfully than other similar nations.
“By the beginning of October England had fully vaccinated about two-thirds of its population, which is much lower than countries like Portugal, Spain, Denmark and Ireland. Part of the reason is that many other European countries vaccinated teenagers during the summer in time for the return to school, while the UK dithered over making the decision.”
Professor Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine:
“The delay in extending [the vaccine] to 12 to 15-year-olds was a serious mistake and contributed to mixed messaging. So [did] the failure to expose and confront the networks promoting anti-vaccine messaging, some regrettably with links to certain politicians.
“As winter approaches there is an urgent need to reinvigorate the push to vaccinate as many people as possible.”
Conservative Party Conference 2021. | Twitter/@RichardRout
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY...
... on the lack of face coverings at the Conservative Party Conference and Boris Johnson’s comment that he was excited to be at an event where people “can finally shake hands and exchange bodily fluids.”
Dr Deepti Gurdasani, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology, Statistical Genetics, Machine Learning, Queen Mary University of London:
“Infection rates in England currently are very high, so the risk of ‘superspreading’ in indoor crowded places is also very high.
“And government officials not wearing masks in such environments undermines their own public messaging that advises others to do so, and further erodes public trust, which is critical in the midst of what is a crisis, where we’re having an NHS that’s already struggling and 1,000 deaths per week and it’s not even winter yet.”
Professor Trish Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford:
“People who are fully vaccinated can still transmit the virus and still catch it.
“The more people in the room, the more chance that someone is exhaling the virus even when they’re vaccinated, but especially if they aren’t.
“The combination of masks and vaccines gives vastly more protection than either one alone.”
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▫ PMP News reporting.
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[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 12 October 2021.]
(Cover: Pixabay. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)