Covid is now expected to be treated as an endemic influenza-like virus, and ministers are expected to end mass vaccination after the recall campaign, the former chairman of the UK vaccine task force said.
With health chiefs and senior Tories also pushing for a post-pandemic plan for a tense NHS, Dr Clive Dix called for a major overhaul of the UK’s Covid strategy, effectively reversing the approach of the two years and returning to a ânew normalâ.
“We need to analyze whether we are using the current recall campaign to ensure the protection of vulnerable people, if it is deemed necessary,” he said. âPopulation-based mass vaccination in the UK is now due to end. “
He said ministers should urgently support research into Covid’s immunity beyond antibodies to include B cells and T cells (white blood cells), which could be used to create vaccines for vulnerable people. specific to Covid variants: âWe now have to manage the disease, not the spread of the virus. The future goal is therefore to stop the progression to severe disease in vulnerable groups. “
His intervention comes as it has been revealed that more than 150,000 people across the UK have now died from Covid. Official figures released yesterday recorded 313 more deaths, the highest daily number since February of last year, when the last peak was in decline. This brings the total of deaths recorded within 28 days of a positive Covid test to 150,057. Meanwhile, NHS officials warn patient safety has been compromised this winter due to a crippling shortage of healthcare workers and social care which requires a million additional workers over the next decade. Write in the ObserverChris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the pandemic had exposed “its weakest links”.
âThere is a clear and regrettable impact on the quality of care and, in the most stressed parts of the system, a worrying increase in risk to patient safety,â he writes. âIt is now very clear that the NHS and our welfare system do not have sufficient capacity. It is simply not sustainable to ask staff to work harder and harder to close this gap. That we need a long-term, fully-funded workforce plan to attract and retain the 1 million additional health and care workers that the Health Foundation says will be needed by 2031 . “
Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, also called for action: âThe pandemic highlighted pressures on the workforce but they were never new. We can’t fix them overnight, but we have a moral duty to the NHS and caregivers to look them in the eye after the hell of the past two years and say that a long term plan is in place. square.
Hopson said some NHS trusts outside London would see Covid hospitalizations rise even more than their previous record last year. “There are already a number of trusts with hospitalization levels for covid at 100% of their January 2021 peak,” he said. “That’s before they’re anywhere near their current peaks. These organizations will likely be 10 days or two weeks away from their peak this time around.”
He also said he understood that up to 40% of care homes had stopped taking new admissions in the past week, making it difficult for hospitals to discharge patients. Stephen Chandler, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said social services were a “national emergency” because many staff were on sick leave.
A government spokesperson said “historic funding amounts” were being provided for NHS arrears and social care. âHospital admissions are on the increase, but that is not yet translating into the same number of intensive care needs that we have seen in previous waves,â they said. “We are increasing the capacity of the NHS by building Nightingale hubs on-site, as well as creating 2,500 virtual beds where people can be treated safely at home.”
Dix’s remarks about ending mass immunization come as the Joint Committee on Immunization and Immunization (JCVI) decided fourth doses were not currently needed because most older people who had received boosters were still well protected against Omicron, three months after the start of the recall campaign. . The UK Health Safety Agency said protection for those over 65 was around 90%, three months after a booster shot. JCVI vice-chairman Professor Anthony Harnden said the committee is monitoring Omicron’s impact on the elderly and vulnerable on a weekly basis.
There is a debate on the fourth doses. Last week, Israel became the first country to embark on a fourth round of Covid vaccinations, for those over 60 and healthcare workers who had their third vaccine at least three months ago. Greg Clark, conservative chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee, said a fourth dose of the vaccine should be considered for healthcare workers. âThe UK Health Security Agency has found that the impact of a third dose against Covid transmission wears off after 10 weeks,â he said. ‘So given the staff shortages in the NHS due to self-isolation and the fact that NHS staff received their recall from mid-September, it would be worth the JCVI to consider whether a dose additional would help reduce absences of frontline staff. “
Dix was instrumental in helping pharmaceutical companies create the Covid vaccines, which transformed the risk presented by the virus for most people. He said he supported the current recall campaign, but that a “new targeted strategy” was needed to bring the UK to a position of “managing Covid” as an endemic virus. âFirst of all, we need to think about when we stop testing and let individuals self-isolate when they are not doing well and return to work when they feel ready to do so. The same way we do in a bad flu season, âhe said.
Dix said the government should support research and analysis of the effectiveness of vaccines in producing “memory B and T cell immunity” – parts of the immune system that recognize Covid – and in particular how they worked for those over 60 and vulnerable groups with underlying health conditions. “With this data in hand, we should influence the vaccine manufacturers who have vaccines that have shown the most durable cellular responses to develop an Omicron and Delta variant vaccine to cover the current mutation lines,” he said. , adding that Professor Paul Moss and the Covid Immunology Consortium had provided “excellent groundwork” for this.
Professor Eleanor Riley, professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Edinburgh, said: âIt all depends on whether another variant appears.
âA fourth dose or a second booster of the existing vaccine is unlikely to help much. The proof is that immunity against serious illness lasts much longer. The only justification for doing a second recall for the majority of the population would be if we saw clear evidence that people, five or six months after their recall, end up in hospital with severe Covid. “
Health experts are also concerned that the adoption of the booster vaccine last month was driven by the public’s desire not to disrupt the holiday season. Now that the fear is gone, it has removed some of the desire to get the vaccine. In addition, there is a widespread perception that Omicron is milder and less disturbing, added Simon Williams of Swansea University. âWe call ‘variable fatigue’, which means people say ‘this is what viruses do; we just need to get on with our lives. It’s not great from a public health point of view.
However, Professor Helen Bedford of University College London, an expert in child health, has warned that there is a danger in grouping outright anti-vaccines with people who have lingering doubts about getting of a vaccine. âIf you do this, you will miss the opportunity to persuade those who have genuine concerns but who might change their mind and get vaccinated. It doesn’t help to criticize them all like bullshit.