UK COVID-19 Daily: new hopes for COVID-19 vaccine

  • Tim Locke, Medscape.com

  • UK Medical News
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These are the latest UK coronavirus stories you need to know.

Oxford Vaccine Hopes

The Lancet journal confirmed to Medscape News UK that a peer-reviewed study would be published on 20th July detailing the latest developments of a COVID-19 vaccine being developed by a team from the University of Oxford.

Widespread reporting in the UK press suggested that the search for a successful vaccine had "been boosted" by a phase I clinical trial involving around 1000 volunteers which was understood to have shown encouraging levels of neutralising antibodies, thought to be important in protecting against viral infection.

Some reports suggested that blood samples taken from volunteers in the trials have showed the vaccine stimulated the body to produce antibodies and T-cells.

It also found no serious side effects, the reports said.

Development of the pioneering vaccine, one of several candidates worldwide, was given a new twist on Thursday when it was reported that Russia had attempted to access information about laboratories involved with COVID-19 vaccine development, including the Oxford group.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: "It is completely unacceptable that the Russian intelligence services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic."

Russia has denied any involvement.

Cancer Charity Cuts

Cancer Research UK unveiled radical plans to cope with a large cut in income because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The charity said it had to make "difficult decisions" to cut funding after anticipating a £300 million drop in revenue over the next three years.

It said the size of its workforce would be reduced by 500 roles (24%).

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive at Cancer Research UK said: "We made some very difficult decisions early on to mitigate the impact on our work; we moved all of our staff to 80% pay, furloughed 60% of staff, and cut £44 million from our research. But it is with a heavy heart that I can confirm we will have to reduce the size of our workforce, and make significant cuts to our research spend, as a result of the situation we find ourselves in. 

"With such a significant shortfall in income, we cannot afford to keep spending at the same levels."

Coronavirus and Heart Conditions

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) warned that longer waits for tests due to the coronavirus pandemic could lead to more deaths from undiagnosed heart conditions.

Quoting NHS data, it said around 190,000, a decrease of 67%, fewer echocardiograms were carried out in England after the lockdown began during April and May, compared to February.

The East Midlands saw the largest decrease at 74%, followed by the East of England and Yorkshire & Humber at 71%.

The BHF warned of a "domino effect" in which worsening health for patients could increase pressure on the NHS.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, a consultant cardiologist, and BHF associate medical director, said: "Heart patients have been hit doubly hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Not only are they at greater risk of complications from COVID-19, but they have also faced delays to vital treatment and care."

COVID-19 and Dementia

Dementia is the most common underlying condition in people dying from COVID-19 in Scotland, new figures have revealed.

The National Records of Scotland showed that of all deaths involving COVID-19 between March and June 2020, 92% had at least one pre-existing condition. The most common main pre-existing condition was dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (31%).

Samantha Benham-Hermetz, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “More research is needed to understand the link between COVID-19 and dementia, so we can urgently work out why people with the condition are being disproportionality impacted.

"Age is the biggest risk factor for dementia, and with older people also more likely to experience severe symptoms from COVID-19, this may partly explain the high number of deaths. The high rates of infection in care homes is also putting people with dementia at a higher risk of being badly affected by COVID-19."

ICU Mortality

The overall mortality of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units (ICUs) fell from almost 60% at the end of March to 42% at the end of May, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies from three continents.

The review, led by the University of Bristol and Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Trust, published in the journal Anaesthesia, also showed ICU mortality for the disease is similar across the three continents included: Europe, Asia and North America.

“The important message is that as the pandemic has progressed and various factors combine, survival of patients admitted to ICU has significantly improved.” said lead author Professor Tim Cook, honorary professor in anaesthesia at the University of Bristol and consultant in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine at Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust.

'Meaningful Reduction' in COVID Cases From Social Distancing

Physical distancing measures, such as closing schools, workplaces, and public transport, and restricting mass gatherings, were associated with a meaningful reduction in new COVID-19 cases, a study published by The BMJ found.

The data, gathered from 149 countries and regions, also showed that implementing lockdown restrictions earlier was associated with a greater reduction in new cases.

However, an editorial in the same journal said flaws in collection and reporting of test data undermined the findings, despite their "admirable" work.

Test Kit Safety Warning

NHS Test and Trace was notified that some test kits produced by Randox laboratories may not meet its safety standards for coronavirus testing, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

The DHSC said the risk to safety was low but it was recommending a suspension of the use of Randox test kits, pending an investigation.

Daily Deaths and Data

Another 66 UK COVID-19 deaths were announced on Thursday, taking the total to 45,119.

Another 642 positive cases were reported on Thursday taking the total UK confirmed cases to 292,552.

Adapted from Medscape UK.