As we begin to see clear signs that we are getting this pandemic under control, it is perhaps a good time to remind you of other epidemic diseases just lurking around ready to catch us all off guard.
I have already made reference to the new Ebola outbreak in central Africa this week, with a further death being reported today. It is about 3 years since the disease seemed to go away after the last epidemic of cases.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has reported a major outbreak of the Plague which first emerged again about 3 months ago in the province of Ituri, in the North East part of the country. There are now more than 520 cases and 31 confirmed dead. All 3 major forms of the disease have been reported, most are the bubonic form of the disease, but there are 5 cases of the pneumonic form and two of the septicaemic form. The average age of cases has been only 13 but ages have ranged from 3 months to 73years. The Congo has had the disease endemic in the country since 1926.
Russia has reported human cases of the H5N8 avian influenza virus infection. Seven human cases have been found on a farm in Southern Russia, none of them appear to be seriously ill. This particular strain of Avian influenza has a very high mortality rate in birds, particularly poultry. Most of you will remember the last time it hit Great Britain. In eastern Europe it is not unusual for poultry workers to live, eat and sleep, in close proximity to the birds. This will probably account for how it has spread to the human species. This is potentially very serious but the WHO and the Russian Officials have acted swiftly to contain it.
The WHO does a remarkable job with its horizon scanning and ensuring early recognition and prompt containment measures to control outbreaks like these. Although areas like the Congo will by now have Covid cases I doubt much vaccine if any has arrived in the country yet. Please remember to support organisations like the International Red Cross and other NGOs (Non-Government Organisations) working under extreme conditions to combat the health challenges.
Back to England and our Covid pandemic. I can continue to report good but slow progress. Oxford University have reported on an analysis of their own vaccine. They confirm that giving the two shots 12 weeks apart does boost its effectiveness, so as they say the UK gamble paid off. When a second jab is given 3 months after the first it will prevent 81% of people from getting symptomatic illness. This could be compared with the effects of the HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) given to young girls. It works very much more effectively when a second dose is given a year later rather than just one month. The HPV is a trigger for future carcinoma of the cervix in women. Vaccination is having a significant effect on reducing its prevalence.
In both cases it is thought that a longer time between doses ‘primes’ the immune system giving it more time to process and store genetic instructions on how to defend itself against the virus.
A study on the Pfizer vaccine from Israel has demonstrated 85% efficacy after one dose as well. Both studies give great support to the longer space between the two doses that the UK has adopted. It also shows both the vaccines to be equally efficient. It also refutes the ideas in the EU that this should not happen. This is a political issue. The scientists all involved agree with one another.
Another potentially very important piece of research today by Pfizer BioNTech has shown that their vaccine can be stored in a normal household freezer between-15C and -25C for up to 2 weeks, rather than the ultra-cold -70C that is being used at present. This can potentially dramatically expand the roll out of the jabs and avoid the logistical nightmare of moving doses in specialised containers. Pfizer have already submitted this new temperature data to the US regulator, the FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) to have the temperature changes in the shipping requirements approved.
In Israel, the Sheeba Medical Centre, one of Israel’s top research hospitals has reported a 75% drop in the number of people testing positive with a PCR test after the first dose of vaccine which suggests a significant impact on blocking asymptomatic infections and transmission. We have been lacking the information up till now and this study is most reassuring that there will be significantly less transmission in the community once most are immunised. How long before I can have a hair cut is one of the commonest questions I am asked. I know I am rubbish at cutting my beard so I am keen to know the answer. I do not think it will be very soon. We might find out on Monday.
There has been much speculation and alleged leaks about the plans to be announced on Monday with the Prime Minister’s exit strategy. I am not going to report the leaks. Let’s wait and see. The scientists will object if he moves too fast. Many of his back benchers will react if he is too slow. The Opposition will have no idea of a real plan and the rest of us will have to do as we are told.
You all I hope understand that figures are moving in the right direction but there are still far too many hospital admissions and deaths. In my view it is going to take another 4 weeks, before we can be satisfied the numbers are low enough to relax some of the lockdown rules. I just hope Boris agrees with me.
There were 560,400 tests done on 18th February, no figure for yesterday. Only 10, 406 tests were positive in the last 24 hours. Hopefully this is going to drop below 10,000 very soon. There are 18,462 people in hospital on 18th February. It is good to see this below 20,000. The last daily figure was 1,492 admitted on 16th February. There are still 2,469 patients on ventilators. There have been over 17 million first doses of the vaccine given and over 600,000 2nd doses.
My 15 year-old great niece is in hospital with a Covid myocarditis. I would value your thoughts, and if appropriate prayers, for her and her family all of whom have had Covid in the last month. I have not been able to travel to see her. Keep going, the marathon will end.
Meanwhile stick to the rules, look out for one another, stay at home, stay apart and stay safe.