Recent weeks have seen the approval and rollout of vaccines in the UK and globally, with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine being given approval by the government regulator, the MHRA on Wednesday. This, together with the earlier approval of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine, has to be the most positive of steps towards defeating, or at least living with the serious consequences of the virus.
As we have previously highlighted, procurement of vaccines is, at least for now, strictly limited to NHS supply chains. We are aware of a number of clients who have already received their first doses of vaccine, although there does seem to be quite large local differences in timings and organisation.
This week has also seen a significant change in strategy from the Government. Many of you who have already received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine would be expecting a second dose some three weeks later – as Pfizer themselves advise. There is now a policy to delay this second dose for up to 12 weeks, so more individuals can receive the first dose. Whilst it is easy enough to see the logic of this approach, it does seriously veer against science, as well as being of huge inconvenience.
Pfizer themselves have said they have no data on the effectiveness beyond the 21 day period of a single dose. Everyone in the clinical trials had a second dose as per the schedule. It is fair to comment that, if it were not for a global pandemic, such change to the manufacturers scientific advice would never be allowed to occur. Whilst significant immunity is conferred from a single dose alone, we hope that this change in strategy does not compromise the vaccine’s overall effectiveness.
Please remember that you need do nothing. Your local NHS group will contact you and invite you to a nearby vaccine centre, in order of the priority list.
RISING CASES, locally and nationally
It will not have escaped everyone’s attention that the number of positive cases of COVID-19 is escalating at a rate not previously seen since the early days of the pandemic. There will be many factors in this rise, but the consensus seems to be that the emergence of the new, more highly transmissible strain is responsible. Probably 60-70% of new cases being tested in London and the South East are now this new variant, which now seems to be spreading nationally.
Unfortunately, we are unlikely to have felt the full impact of this. There is an inevitable lag in numbers throughout the holiday period, and the impact of Christmas Day socialising has probably yet to be felt. We have also seen the weather changing as we enter the time of year when illness, especially respiratory disease, usually increases. Pressure on medical services has undoubtedly started to rise significantly in recent weeks, and some local hospitals are already reaching capacity.
What is our experience locally?
Probably some of the most common questions we get asked by clients is ‘have you seen anyone with COVID?’ or ‘is there much around here?’. The short answer to these questions has now unfortunately become ‘yes’. During much of the early stages, and up until the last few weeks, as a practice we have seen sporadic cases across the main areas we cover, namely the Cotswolds and adjacent counties. Undoubtedly, in recent weeks we have experienced a sharp increase in local positive cases for the first time, very much aligning our experiences with some of the figures we see through the media.
It is still worth reminding ourselves that for most people, the disease is mild, self-limiting, and needs little or no medical intervention, other than isolation measures.
Dr Simon Gillson
Dr Karl Braine