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UK COVID-19 Update: Moderna Asks for US and EU Approval for Vaccine

These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about today.

UK Government Agrees to Buy More Moderna Vaccine Doses

The biotechnology company Moderna announced today it was filing for emergency use authorisation in the US and Europe for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

In a press release, it said latest data showed of its mRNA-1273 vaccine showed 94.1% efficacy overall, and 100% efficacy against severe cases.

No serious safety concerns had been identified, it said.

It came a day after the UK government said it had signed a deal to buy a further 2 million doses of Moderna's vaccine candidate.

It brings the total number of doses of the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine to 7 million – enough for around 3.5 million people.

The Government has pre-ordered 357 million vaccine doses through agreements with several developers.

Kate Bingham, chair of the Government's Vaccine Taskforce said: "Moderna's vaccine was an important addition to our portfolio and securing an additional 2 million doses further adds to the protection we can provide to the public to end the pandemic."

Announcement of the deal came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the weekend appointed Nadhim Zahawi as minister responsible for rolling out a coronavirus vaccine programme.

Commenting on today's announcement to the Science Media Centre, Dr Penny Ward, visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King's College London, said: "Given similar outcomes in earlier reports from trials of other vaccines, the sustained effect noted suggests that we may be able to expect similar outcomes in other ongoing phase 3 trials, meaning that a range of vaccines may soon be available to deploy across the world.

"We will need them all."

Dr Gillies O’Bryan-Tear, chair of policy and communications at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine, said: "Although we await the full details of these results in published form, we can now assume that this vaccine will be approved for use in December."

ICL Study Suggests Fall in Infection rates

COVID-19 infections in England have fallen by around 30% compared with the period before lockdown, according to a preprint of the React-1 study.

The research from Imperial College London (ICL) and Ipsos MORI showed that the overall R number has also fallen to an estimated 0.88.

Of 105,123 swabs taken between 13 and 24 November, 821 were positive, giving an estimated prevalence of 0.96%, or 96 infections per 10,000 persons after adjusting to ensure the figures were representative of England's population.

Prevalence fell in most areas of the country, most notably in the North West and North East, where the number of people testing positive dropped by half.

The West Midlands had the highest number of infections at 1.55% of the population. This area, as well as the East Midlands and London, saw little change in infections since the previous round of testing.

London had the highest R number at 0.95.

Infection rates fell across most age groups, except for school age children where positive tests grew.

Ethnic minorities were still more likely to have the virus compared with White people, with Asian individuals having the highest risk.

Prof Paul Elliott, director of the programme at ICL, said: "Our robust data offer encouraging signs for England's epidemic, where we’re seeing a fall in infections at the national level and in particular across regions that were previously worst affected.

"These trends suggest that the tiered approach helped to curb infections in these areas and that lockdown has added to this effect."

Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, commented: "It’s important not to get too excited about these figures.  It certainly is good news that the infection rate, that has been increasing since the start of September, is showing some very clear signs of falling again. But it hasn't fallen very far yet."

Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said it was worth noting that "prevalence peaked one to two weeks before the England-wide lockdown began on November 4th". He said that suggested "that the measures taken prior to lockdown did reduce the R number to around one or possibly below one, though it is likely that R has fallen further since lockdown began".

The REACT 1 study is tracking current cases of COVID-19 in the community by testing more than 150,000 randomly selected people each month over a two-week period. Volunteers take nose and throat swabs at home, which are then analysed in a laboratory by a technique called RT-PCR.

New Welsh Lockdown Restrictions

Pubs and restaurants in Wales will be banned from selling alcohol and be forced to close at 6pm every evening.

Cinemas, bowling alleys, bingo halls, and other indoor entertainment venues must also shut.

The measures, announced by Mark Drakeford, the First Minister, will come into force from 6pm this Friday.

He warned that the coronavirus was again accelerating across Wales, rising to 210 cases per 100,000 people.

"This will not be a 'normal' Christmas," Mr Drakeford warned.

Cancer Research Delays

Major advances in cancer research could be delayed by an estimated 17 months because of the pandemic, it is feared.

An online survey of 239 research staff carried out by the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) between 22 and 29 September found respondents had lost an average of 10 weeks of research time during the first lockdown.

They predicted that their own scientific advances would be pushed back by an average of six months.

More than 9 in 10 researchers said the biggest problem had been laboratory closures and restrictions in accessing facilities and equipment.

The average ICR researcher spent 53% of their working time in a lab before lockdown, falling to just 5% during lockdown. After the first lockdown ended, that figure rose again to reach 34%.

The effects of the pandemic had impacted morale, with 69% of researchers saying they felt frustrated, 39% saddened, and 25% depressed.

Professor Paul Workman, ICR chief executive, said: "It is sobering to see that our researchers are estimating that their own research advances will be delayed by six months – and that the wider impact, because of the interconnectedness of science, is likely to push back major advances for patients by nearly a year and a half.

"Our survey though does provide solutions to mitigate the impact – in the form of investment in staffing, new technologies, and computing power. For that, we need more of the generous donations we have been receiving to our emergency appeal, along with a commitment from the Government to help fill the funding gap for the life sciences left by the pandemic."

Anticancer Therapies During Lockdown

The number of patients starting anticancer therapies in England fell by 32% in April following the start of the first coronavirus lockdown, researchers found.

However, treatment levels rose within three months to go 15% higher than pre-pandemic levels, according to a study in The Lancet Oncology.

 Researchers at Imperial College London and University College London (UCL) compared the number of registrations in April to June with the mean number of registrations during the previous six months when cancer care was not affected.

The researchers said a major part of the return to pre-pandemic cancer treatment levels was due to NHS England's 'COVID-19 rapid guidance: delivery of systemic anticancer treatments', approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

Prof Allan Hackshaw from UCL's Cancer Institute, who co-led the study, said: "Many cancer services in the UK and across the world underwent extensive changes to minimise COVID-19 exposure among patients with cancer and health-care staff.

"These changes included delayed surgery and radiotherapy, reduced outpatient visits (often replaced with telephone assessments), and where possible, switching from therapies that require intravenous administration in clinic to oral drugs that can be taken at home."

The effect on cancer treatment during the first lockdown was most keenly seen in a 51% reduction in patients receiving chemotherapy, and a 35% & fall in those starting immunotherapies.

Free Vitamin D for Care Home Residents

More than 2.5 million vulnerable people across England will be offered free vitamin D supplements for the winter, the Government announced at the weekend.

All care homes will automatically receive supplies for residents, while individuals on the clinically extremely vulnerable list will be invited to order supplies delivered to their homes.

The free deliveries will start in January and last for four months.

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: "A number of studies indicate vitamin D might have a positive impact in protecting against COVID-19. I have asked NICE and PHE to re-review the existing evidence on the link between COVID-19 and vitamin D to ensure we explore every potential opportunity to beat this virus."

The Department of Health and Social Care said it would provide further information and guidance for all nursing and residential care home providers in the coming weeks.

Advice from PHE is for everybody to take 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D a day between October and early March to keep bones and muscles healthy.

Experts Call for Loosening of Coronavirus Restrictions for Young Children

An urgent rethink of infection policies is needed to help control SARS-CoV-2 rates to keep primary schools in the UK and the rest of Europe open this winter, a group of experts have argued.

The authors of an opinion piece in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, call for different infection control measures in primary schools to those used in secondary education settings.

These would include:

  • No compulsory face coverings for young children
  • No requirement for entire 'bubbles' to isolate following a single case at school
  • No requirement for the entire family to isolate while awaiting the child's test results

They argue that young children experience frequent respiratory tract infections each winter, with symptoms frequently overlapping with those of SARS-CoV-2. Difficulties in getting a test, and delays waiting for results, will impact on children's physical and mental health, they say.

They write: "We suggest that governments adopt a more pragmatic, evidence-based approach to primary schools, in which the unintended consequences of excessively risk-averse approaches are recognised."

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.