Data from two separate studies published in the UK, one in England and another in Scotland, have shown vaccines against Covid-19 are effective in cutting disease transmission and hospitalizations from the first dose.
Analysis from Public Health England has shown the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech reduces the risk of catching infection by more than 70% after a first dose.
That risk is reduced by 85% after a second dose.
The public health body’s study of real-world data also showed vaccinated people who go on to become infected are far less likely to die or be hospitalized.
Hospitalization and death from Covid-19 are reduced by over 75% in those who have received a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to the analysis.
“This crucial report shows vaccines are working — it is extremely encouraging to see evidence that the Pfizer vaccine offers a high degree of protection against coronavirus,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.
Britain is one of the countries hardest-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with 120,757 deaths.
It was the first nation to begin mass vaccinations in December and more than 17 million people have now received at least a first vaccine dose, one-third of the UK’s adult population.
“We will see much more data over the coming weeks and months but we should be very encouraged by these initial findings,” said Dr. Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at Public Health England.
At the same time, a study in Scotland has shown the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccinations have led to a reduction in Covid-19 admissions to hospitals after a first dose.
The study, led by the University of Edinburgh, found that by the fourth week after receiving the initial dose the Pfizer vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization from Covid by up to 85%.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine reduced the risk by 94%.
“These results are very encouraging and have given us great reasons to be optimistic for the future,” Professor Aziz Sheikh, who lead the research, said in a statement.
“We now have national evidence, across an entire country, that vaccination protects Covid-19 hospitalizations.
“Roll-out of the first vaccine dose now needs to be accelerated globally to help overcome this terrible disease,” he added.
The research compared the outcomes of those who had received their first jab with those who had not.
It found that vaccination was associated with an 81% reduction in hospitalization risk in the fourth week among those aged 80 years and over when the results for both vaccines were combined.
The project, which used patient data to track the pandemic and the vaccine roll-out in real-time, analyzed a dataset covering the entire Scottish population of 5.4 million between 8 December and 15 February.
Some 1.14 million vaccines were administered to 21% of the Scottish population during the period.
The Pfizer vaccine was received by 650,000 people in Scotland, while 490,000 had the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
It is the first research to describe the effect of vaccinations on preventing severe illness resulting in hospitalization across an entire country.
Previous results about vaccine efficacy have come from clinical trials.
The study team said the findings applied to other countries using the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines.
The data reported “is extremely promising,” said Arne Akbar, the president of the British Society for Immunology.
“Although there does seem to be some difference in effectiveness levels measured across age groups, the reduction in hospitalizations for the older age groups is still impressively high,” he said.
“We now need to understand how long-lasting this protection is for one dose of the vaccine.”
Covid vaccine tracker: How’s my country and the rest of the world is doing?
When it comes to the coronavirus vaccine there is one question most people are asking – when will I get it? A handful of countries have set very specific vaccination targets, but for the rest of the world, the picture is less clear.
Getting the world vaccinated against Covid-19 is a matter of life and death, involving complicated scientific processes, multinational corporations, government promises, and backroom deals. So figuring out when and how everyone in the world will get the vaccine is not easy.
Agathe Demarais is the director of global forecasting at the Economist Intelligence Unit, which has done some of the most comprehensive research on the topic. She has looked at the world’s production capacity, along with the healthcare facilities needed to get vaccines into people’s arms, the number of people a country has to contend with, and what they can afford.
- Coronavirus cases, deaths, vaccinations by country
- Will countries be left behind in the vaccine race?
- The vaccines that work – and the others on the way
Many of the findings seem to fall along predictable lines of rich v poor. The UK and the US are both well supplied with vaccines right now because they could afford to invest a lot of money into vaccine development and put themselves at the front of the queue.
Rich countries that didn’t do that, like Canada or those in the EU bloc, are a little further behind. Canada was criticized at the end of last year for buying up five times the supply it needs to cover its population, but it seems it wasn’t positioned for priority delivery.
That’s partly because the country decided to invest in vaccines from European factories, afraid that the US under Donald Trump would issue export bans. It turned out to be a bad bet. European factories are struggling with supply and recently it has been the EU, not the US, that has been threatening export bans.
“As long as the European market doesn’t have enough vaccines, I think that big imports to Canada are going to remain off the cards,” says Ms. Demarais. Most low-income countries haven’t started vaccinating yet. But some countries in the middle are doing better than expected.
Global vaccine rollout
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Serbia is eighth in the world in terms of the percentage of its population vaccinated, ahead of any country in the EU.
Its success is partly down to an efficient roll-out but it’s also benefitting from vaccine diplomacy – a battle between Russia and China for influence in eastern Europe. It’s one of the few places where the Russian vaccine Sputnik V and the Chinese vaccine SinoPharm are already available.
On paper, Serbians are given a choice of what vaccine they would prefer – Pfizer, Sputnik, or SinoPharm. In reality, most people end up being given SinoPharm.
And the influence China is exerting here is likely to be long-term. Countries giving a first and second dose of one of the Chinese vaccines are also likely to look to Beijing for booster doses if needed.
The United Arab Emirates is also relying heavily on the SinoPharm vaccine – it makes up 80% of the doses being administered there right now. And the UAE is building a SinoPharm production facility.
“China is coming with production facilities, trained workers, so it’s going to give long-term influence to China,” says Ms. Demarais. “And it will make it very, very tricky for recipient governments to say no to China for anything in the future.”
Being a global vaccine superpower, however, doesn’t mean your population will be vaccinated first. The EIU’s research predicts two of the world’s vaccine production powerhouses, China and India, may not be sufficiently vaccinated until the end of 2022. That’s because they have huge populations to contend with, as well as a shortage of health workers.
In India, the country’s success as a Covid vaccine producer is largely down to one man, Adar Poonawalla. He’s chief executive of the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer.
Last year, his family started to think he has lost his mind when he began betting hundreds of millions of dollars of his own money on vaccines that he didn’t know would work.
In January, the first of those vaccines, developed by Oxford and AstraZeneca, was delivered to the Indian government. Now he’s producing 2.4 million doses a day. He’s one of two main suppliers to the Indian government – and is also supplying Brazil, Morocco, Bangladesh, and South Africa.
“I thought the pressure and all the madness would end now that we’ve made the product,” he says. “But the real challenge is trying to keep everybody happy.
“I thought there’d be so many other manufacturers who would be able to supply. But sadly, at the moment at least, in the first quarter, and perhaps even the second quarter of 2021, we’re not going to see a substantial increase in supply.”
He says production cannot be ramped up overnight. “It takes time,” Mr. Ponnawalla adds. “People think that the Serum Institute has got a magic sauce. Yes, we’re good at what we do but it’s not a magic wand.” He currently has an edge because he started building facilities in March last year, as well as stockpiling things like chemicals and glass vials in August.
For manufacturers starting production now, it will take months to produce vaccines. And the same applies to any boosters that might be needed to tackle new variants.
Mr. Ponnawalla says he is committed to supplying India and then Africa through a scheme called the Covax facility.
Coax, an initiative led by the WHO and other health organizations aims to get affordable vaccines to every country in the world. Countries that can’t afford vaccines will get them for free through a special fund. The rest will pay. But the theory is that they will get a better price by negotiating through the bloc than if they had done so on their own.
Coax is planning to start delivering vaccines this month. But the plan is being undermined by the fact many countries involved are also negotiating their deals on the side.
Mr. Poonawalla says almost every leader in Africa has been in touch with him to access vaccines independently. Last week, Uganda announced it had secured 18 million doses from the Serum Institute at $7 a jab – much more than the $4 being paid by Coax. The institute says it is in talks with Uganda but denies this deal was ever signed.
In total, Mr. Poonawalla’s firm is due to supply 200m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Covax and has promised 900m more doses in the future.
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has since advised against the rollout of the vaccine in countries where the South African strain is present. He says he is still committed to the scheme but admits it faces problems. It’s dealing with too many different vaccine producers, he says, each offering varying prices and timelines for delivery.
Ms. Demarais and the EIU are not overly optimistic about what Covax can achieve either. The timelines for delivery of vaccines are still not clear and even if things go according to plan, the scheme only aims to cover 20-27% of a country’s population this year. “It’s going to make a small marginal difference, but not a game-changer,” she says.
In her forecast, some countries may not get widespread coverage even by 2023. Some may never be fully covered. Vaccination may not be a priority for every country, especially one that has a young population and is not seeing huge numbers of people getting sick.
The problem with that scenario is as long as the virus can prosper somewhere it will be able to mutate and migrate. Vaccine-resistant variants will continue to evolve.
It’s not all bad news. Vaccines are being produced faster than ever but the scale of the task – inoculating 7.8 billion people around the world – is gigantic. And it’s never been attempted before.
Ms. Demarais believes governments should level with their people on what is possible. “It’s very difficult for a government to say, ‘No, we’re not going to achieve widespread immunization coverage before several years.’ Nobody wants to say that.”
Taking Care of Your Mental Health Is a Key Piece of the puzzel to crohns disease
When you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, it’s not just your physical health that’s affected. The frequent pain, unpredictability, and worrying that comes with inflammatory bowel disease can disrupt your emotional wellbeing, too.
And that stress, in turn, can make your IBD symptoms even worse.
“It’s pretty well understood that, while stress does not cause IBD, it contributes to flares, and it can contribute to the first expression of IBD,” says Stephen Lupe, PsyD, a clinical health psychologist who specializes in digestive diseases.
That’s why taking care of your emotional wellbeing is a critical part of managing your IBD.
“A lot of patients get stuck in this cycle of putting their life on hold while they try to cope with the disease, and that tends to increase depression, increase anxiety and increase stress,” he explains.
“But we want them to know that they can have a life and the disease at the same time. There are things that we can do to help their bodies cope with these conditions.”
Mental health and IBD go hand-in-hand
Studies have found that people who have IBD are more likely to develop anxiety and depression than people who don’t have it.
“Sometimes, people who are frequently in pain start to become predictive with the pain way before it ever happens, and they’ll stop doing things in anticipation of the pain,” Dr. Lupe notes. “Maybe they’ll stop eating, or they’ll stop going out, and their lives get narrower and narrower, which a lot of times can influence the development of anxiety or depression.”
Sleep problems are also common in people who have IBD, especially during a flare, he adds.
It’s important to be aware of these risks. If you’ve lost interest in doing things you used to love, or are struggling with the day-to-day challenges of living with a chronic gut disorder, speak up and let your doctor know what’s going on. He or she is there to help.
“A lot of gastroenterologists know psychologists that they can refer patients to,” Dr. Lupe says.
Can a health psychologist help you?
If you’re already frequenting your doctor’s office, making yet another medical appointment might not be at the top of your “things I want to do” list.
But seeking help to cope with the mental and emotional aspects of the disease can be an important step in improving your quality of life and managing symptoms. Research suggests that the gut and the brain are connected through the gut-brain axis and that stress may make symptoms worse.
“My job is to talk to patients about all of the things that come along with being diagnosed with a gut condition, whether that’s stress, anxiety or depression, or the lifestyle modifications that need to happen,” Dr. Lupe says.
“We also look at things like body image issues, the stress, and fear that can sometimes come along with having to use the bathroom frequently, and even things like talking to our partners about the sexual performance after being diagnosed.”
A psychologist may recommend one of these forms of therapy:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on changing thinking and behavioral patterns.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy, where people learn to accept the challenges that come with their condition and focus on being present and mindful in their situation.
- Hypnotherapy, which uses mind-body techniques to help people reach a relaxed state where they are more open to suggestions that may influence the quantity or intensity of symptoms.
Many people find additional support in the form of online or IRL support groups. “This can be very normalizing and validating to meet other people who have the same kinds of things going on in their life,” Dr. Lupe says.
But ongoing struggles with mood, stress, body image, sleep, anxiety, or coping with the day-to-day challenges of living with IBD should be addressed by a mental health professional.
“I think there’s a lot of stigmas, and a lot of patients have fear of talking about some of this other stuff that’s going on,” Dr. Lupe says. “People don’t always realize that there are things that we can do to help our bodies and minds cope so that we can have a life and keep moving forward. So make sure that you advocate for yourself and find a way to talk to someone.”
Coronavirus Ireland: 63 further deaths and 3,569 more Covid-19 cases confirmed
A further 3,569 Covid-19 cases were confirmed in the Republic of Ireland by the Department of Health today.
There was also a further 63 Covid-19 fatalities recorded.
Five of these deaths occurred in November 2020, one of these deaths occurred in December 2020, and the remaining 56 occurred in January 2021.
The date of death for one reported death remains under investigation.
This brings the total number of cases in the state to 159,144 and the total number of Covid-19 related deaths to 2,460.
Of the cases notified today:
- 1,616 are men / 1,924 are women
- 54pc are under 45 years of age
- The median age is 42 years old
- 1,119 are in Dublin, 416 in Cork, 200 in Galway, 182 in Louth, 169 in Waterford, and the remaining 1,483 cases are spread across all other counties.
As of 2pm today there are 1,770 Covid-19 patients in hospital, with 172 of these in ICU. Both figures are the highest tallies ever recorded in the pandemic.
Speaking on today’s figures, CMO Dr Tony Holohan said: “We are seeing some early signs of progress with daily cases numbers and positivity rates.
“We can take some hope in them, but we have a long, long way to go. In the coming weeks ahead, we will need to draw upon our reserves of resilience from springtime as we can expect to see hospitalisations, admissions to ICU and mortality related to Covid-19 increase day on day.”
“The best way that we can all support one another now is to stay apart. Sadly, what we are seeing now is a result of the very high daily confirmed case numbers we experienced for successive weeks.
“To ensure our hospitals and loved ones remain protected, and stay alive to receive the vaccine, please continue to follow public health advice and stay home.”
This comes as healthcare workers on leave due to being a close contact of a Covid-19 case are being asked to return to work if they are asymptomatic due to the strain on the health service.
- GPs will be first to use online system to register for a vaccine
- Simon Harris criticises communication of vaccine plan, saying public feel like they’ve been left in the dark
- Sinead Ryan: Infection rate now our badge of dishonour
There are currently over 7,000 HSE staff out of work, Chief Operations Officer Ann O’Connor confirmed this morning.
The INMO has today called for the government to declare a National Emergency due to the hospital crisis, as they say the health service is not coping with the surge in the disease.
Speaking on Morning Ireland, the COO said there are 14 Irish hospitals with more than 50 Covid-19 cases and six with more than 100. She said Cork University Hospital, University Hospital Limerick and Galway University Hospital are the worst hit.
Ms O’Connor said in “ordinary circumstances” the close contacts of cases would be out for 14 days, but said “that is not available to us in that instance”
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