Covid UK: SAGE expert says UK should not open until all children are vaccinated

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SAGE adviser Professor John Edmunds, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has called for all children to be vaccinated before the UK leaves lockdown, despite deaths hospitalisations and deaths flatlining.

SAGE adviser Professor John Edmunds, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has called for all children to be vaccinated before the UK leaves lockdown, despite deaths hospitalisations and deaths flatlining.

A doomster SAGE adviser has called for all children to be vaccinated before the UK ditches its remaining lockdown curbs, despite hospitalisations and deaths remaining flat in the face of rising case numbers. 

Britain is currently on track to give all adults at least one dose of the vaccine by the end of July, according to officials, but it could take three more months just to give one jab to the 14million under-18s in the UK. 

The vaccine rollout is expected to drop to 150,000 first doses a day in the next few months because of shortages in the supply of Pfizer and Moderna‘s jabs and because the AstraZeneca vaccine is not being given to young people. 

Professor John Edmunds, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, insisted today that the ‘safest time’ to reopen fully would be after all children have had a jab.

The SAGE adviser, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said secondary school children at the very least have to have at least one jab before Britain can irreversibly leave lockdown.

He said without a nationwide rollout to children, there would continue to be ‘disruptions’ affecting children at school, including mass testing and bubbles, and a risk that pupils pass it to their parents and grandparents.  

Vaccines are already being rolled-out to children aged 12 and over in the US, Israel and Europe. Pfizer’s jab has been approved in 12- to 15-year-olds in the UK but ministers have yet to push ahead with plans to vaccinate the age group amid safety concerns.

Professor Edmunds’s comments come as another SAGE expert, Professor Stephen Reicher, warned Britain would be ‘repeating the same mistakes’ as last summer by pushing ahead with reopening. 

It comes despite No10 doubling down on its commitment to end all curbs by July 19. Boris Johnson yesterday told a cabinet meeting that Britain would have to live with Covid in the same way it does flu.

And Professor Chris Whitty yesterday told a cabinet briefing Britain would be able to go through the final stage of lockdown easing as planned because deaths and hospitalisations remain flat, despite surging case numbers. 

Daily Covid hospitalisations (green) are starting to creep up as a result of the Indian variant outbreak but the speed at which they are rising week-on-week has already started to slow (red line)

Daily Covid hospitalisations (green) are starting to creep up as a result of the Indian variant outbreak but the speed at which they are rising week-on-week has already started to slow (red line)

Just one in 100 NHS beds are currently being taken up by Covid patients in England — fourteen times fewer than at the start of the second wave. Graph shows: The percentage of all hospital beds available to the NHS being taken up by Covid patients on June 22 this year (red bars) compared to on December 14 (blue bars), the last time infections were above 20,000 and rising

Just one in 100 NHS beds are currently being taken up by Covid patients in England — fourteen times fewer than at the start of the second wave. Graph shows: The percentage of all hospital beds available to the NHS being taken up by Covid patients on June 22 this year (red bars) compared to on December 14 (blue bars), the last time infections were above 20,000 and rising

But Professor Edmunds told BBC Newsnight: ‘At some point we do have to dismantle all of these measures that we’ve put in place.

‘I think, for me, the safest time to do that is when children have been vaccinated, certainly secondary-school-aged children at least. That’s the safest way.

Just one in 100 NHS beds now taken up by Covid patients in England compared to one in six at start of second surge in December 

Just one in 100 NHS beds were being taken up by Covid patients in England last week — fourteen times fewer than at the start of the second wave, according to official figures that highlight the power of the vaccines. 

MailOnline analysis of the latest NHS England figures show that out of the roughly 87,000 hospital beds at the health service’s disposal, fewer than 1,000 were being taken up by people suffering from coronavirus (1.1 per cent) on June 22.

The low inpatient numbers are made more impressive by the fact average daily infections have risen to more than 20,000 due to an outbreak of the ultra-infectious Indian variant.

Professor Chris Whitty told a meeting of the Cabinet yesterday that hospitals will be able to cope fine after Freedom Day because of the protective ring the jabs have thrown around the population. 

The last time Britain was recording more than 20,000 daily cases and the outbreak was rising was in the second week of December, at the cusp of the second wave. 

At that time one in six hospital beds across the health service in England (15 per cent) were being used by people struggling with the virus. 

Now, even the worst hit region — the North West — is only seeing 2.4 per cent of its beds full with Covid patients. Covid occupancy is lowest in the South West, where fewer than one in 220 beds are occupied by people with the virus. 

Britain’s positive test rate is also much lower than in the winter wave — down from five per cent in December to just two per cent now. 

 

‘If we can show it’s safe, and I think we are still gathering data from where vaccine has been used overseas, in Israel and the US and elsewhere, I think that’s going to be the way we can put this epidemic behind us and children can move on.’

He continued: ‘Until we do that there’ll be other sorts of disruptions, whether they’re related to mass testing or whether it’s related to exclusions of bubbles.

‘I think all of these measures do have to go and I think children are looking on and thinking, “Well, vaccinated adults can get on with their lives, so why can’t I?”.

‘We do have to give that serious consideration between now and September.’ 

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which polices the safety of drugs in the UK, has already approved Pfizer’s Covid jab for 12- to 15-year-olds. 

But ministers have yet to expand the roll-out to children, despite Whitehall sources talking of plans to dish out jabs to youngsters in September.

No10 is waiting for guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) which advises them on the inoculation drive.

Earlier this month it was revealed the panel — made up of some of the country’s top vaccinologists — wants to wait for more data on how safe vaccines are for children, amid concerns about heart damage.

Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines have both been linked to extremely rare cases of myocarditis — inflammation of the heart — particularly in young men.

There are fears the condition could also affect children after vaccination, who face a low risk of dying from Covid.

Scientists are divided on whether children need to be vaccinated in the UK, with some insisting it will be necessary to counter the more transmissible Indian ‘Delta’ variant. 

Professor David Livermore, a microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline moving the roll-out on to children posed a moral dilemma, with legitimate safety concerns meaning it is not worth risking children’s well-being for the sake of adults. 

One of the Government’s senior scientific advisers also warned of the ethical dilemma posed by vaccinating children — who face a one-in-a-million risk of dying from coronavirus.

SAGE’s Professor Calum Semple, an expert in outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, said he is against vaccinating the 14million children in the UK.

The MHRA said it is ‘closely monitoring reports of myocarditis and pericarditis received with the Covid vaccines’. 

It has recorded just 34 cases of myocarditis after Pfizer jabs — a similar number to after the AstraZeneca vaccine — and only two after Moderna, but says numbers ‘similar or below expected background levels’.

 

It comes as Professor Reicher, a social psychologist at the University of St Andrews and member of the SAGE subcommittee on behavioural science, said infections needs to be at a lower point if restrictions are not to be reimposed come Autumn.

He told Times Radio: ‘My fear is that we’re on line to repeat the mistakes of last summer – if you remember, the Prime Minister told us it was our patriotic duty to go to the pub, that people should go to work or they might lose their jobs, we had eat out to help out.

‘The consequence was we never got infections low enough to be able to deal with the disease and so when conditions changed in the autumn, when schools went back and people went back to work and universities went back and the weather got worse and we went inside, so infections spiked.

‘And I think this time round, we should learn from that and we should get infections low to a point where we we’re in a much better place in the autumn, where we don’t have to reimpose restrictions.

‘So I think the real question is how can we do that without inconveniencing people too much?’

He said test and trace was still not working properly or contacting people quickly enough, and pointed to the lack of support for people to self-isolate.

He added: ‘It seems to me that if we got right the basic public health moves to suppress infection, we wouldn’t be talking about a high reservoir of infection which can then spike very quickly when conditions change.’

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