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Fresh Covid boost as wonder pill slashes critical cases

Now a triple Covid boost: New wonder pill slashes critical cases, millions more can book booster jabs AND infections plummet

  • From Monday, the double-jabbed can book 3rd dose a month earlier than before
  • Antiviral pill slashes risk of vulnerable people being hospitalised or dying
  • Infection rate and R-rate have both fallen in last fortnight, official figures show 

Faster booster jabs, a ‘wonder pill’ and plunging infection rates delivered a triple boost last night in the fight against Covid.

From Monday the double vaccinated will be able to book their third dose a month earlier than before.

In a second significant development, a new antiviral pill has been found to slash the risk of vulnerable people being hospitalised or dying from coronavirus.

And official figures yesterday showed that the infection rate and the R-rate have both fallen. Cases have dropped by a third in a fortnight – from 49,298 to 34,029.

One expert said the latest figures suggested that coronavirus infections may now have peaked across England.

Ministers have faced fierce criticism over booster jabs, with the sluggish pace of the rollout blamed for high case numbers.

So far third doses could only be booked when they become due – six months after a second jab. That resulted in people waiting weeks for a convenient appointment, at a time when their immunity was waning.

But next week bookings can be made a month in advance online or by calling 119.

From Monday the double vaccinated will be able to book their third dose a month earlier than before

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the Mail last night: ‘Ahead of the peak winter season these are three really important developments that give us hope. The best thing anyone can do, to keep the virus at bay, is get their jab if they haven’t already or their booster as soon as they are eligible.’

He added: ‘Covid-19 vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and your family ahead of a challenging winter and this change to the booking system will make it as easy as possible for people to book their booster jabs.

‘This will accelerate the booster programme, ensure the NHS is able to vaccinate people as quickly as possible, and importantly help more people maintain protection against Covid-19 as we know immunity will dip over time.

‘Please do not delay – come and get the jab to keep the virus at bay.’

Ministers had hoped to offer boosters to 32million people by Christmas but this is looking increasingly unlikely. Only nine million have been given so far.

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s health spokesman, has written to Mr Javid calling for more community pharmacies and walk-in clinics to give boosters and children’s jabs. He warned action was needed to tackle the ‘pitifully low’ vaccination rate in youngsters. Just one in four 12 to 15-year-olds has been jabbed, despite a target to vaccinate them all by October half term.

Six million people in England who had a second dose at least six months ago and are eligible for a booster are yet to have it, with the gap continuing to widen, according to the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group.

Protection against symptomatic disease falls from 65 per cent three months after the second dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab to 45 per cent after six months. The figures for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are 90 per cent and 65 per cent.

Over the same timescales, protection against hospitalisation falls from 95 per cent to 75 per cent for Oxford/AstraZeneca and from 99 per cent to 90 per cent for Pfizer/BioNTech. A small change in effectiveness has major repercussions. A drop from 95 per cent to 90 per cent protection against hospitalisation would lead to a doubling of admissions in the vaccinated.

Early results from Pfizer show that a booster restores protection back up to 95.6 per cent against symptomatic infection.

Maggie Throup, the vaccines minister, said: ‘The Covid-19 booster programme is making great progress – thank you to the NHS and everybody who has come forward so far to secure vital protection ahead of the winter.

‘I encourage everybody eligible for a booster and flu vaccine to book your jab as soon as possible to keep yourself and your loved ones safe over the coming months.’

Clinical guidance was updated last week to enable Covid boosters to be given slightly earlier to those judged at highest risk. This allows care home residents who may have received their second doses at different times to be vaccinated in the same session, as long as it has been five months since their second dose.

It may also help with other vulnerable groups, such as housebound patients, so that they can have their flu and Covid vaccines at the same time. Covid boosters have been delivered or booked in at almost every older adult care home in England.

 

Over 9,700 care homes – almost nine in ten – have been visited since the rollout began in mid-September and a further 1,100 homes have visits scheduled for the coming weeks. More than four in five eligible residents have now had their top-up jab.

Some care homes cannot be visited currently because of norovirus or Covid outbreaks but dates have been agreed for future visits, NHS England said.

Stephen Powis, national medical director at NHS England, said: ‘Seven million people in England have already received their lifesaving booster vaccine, as the NHS moved at pace to get jabs in arms.

‘While this winter is undoubtedly going to be different, the most important thing you can do is come forward for both your Covid booster and flu jab as soon as possible – now with the added convenience of booking in advance – making it even easier to protect yourself and loves ones.’

The Government yesterday said a further 193 people had died in the UK within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus.

 Pfizer pill slashes risk of getting seriously ill

By Victoria Allen, Science Correspondent for the Daily Mail 

A new antiviral pill slashes the risk of vulnerable people being hospitalised with or dying from Covid-19 by almost 90 per cent.

Britain has already ordered a quarter of a million doses of the drug, called Paxlovid.

This week it was first in the world to approve a similar antiviral, molnupiravir, which can be taken at home by high-risk people. The UK has secured 480,000 doses.

The pill, called PF-07321332, works by inhibiting an enzyme that the coronavirus uses to make copies of itself inside human cells (file image)

Hopes high for Christmas as daily cases fall by a third 

The Covid pandemic is in retreat across the country and Christmas will be ‘transformationally different’ to last year, experts say.

Daily new infections have fallen by almost a third in the UK over the past fortnight, from 49,298 on October 22 to 34,029 yesterday.

The UK Health Security Agency says the outbreak could be shrinking by 1 per cent a day in England, with the R rate as low as 0.9.

Separate figures from the Office for National Statistics show around one in 50 people in England had the virus in the week to October 30.

This is equivalent to about 1.1million people – unchanged from the previous week – and the same as the second wave peak in January.

Yet deaths have plummeted compared with a daily peak of 1,300 deaths in January, with 193 deaths reported yesterday.

Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the numbers provide ‘reassurance’ that infections may have peaked.

And Jim Naismith, professor of structural biology at the University of Oxford, added that vaccine uptake amongst teenagers would also hopefully ‘drive down’ infection numbers from now on.

He added: ‘There is no doubt that this Christmas will be transformationally different than last.

‘There is simply no better evidence for the vaccine than this change to our fortunes. I am encouraged by the licensing of the new drugs and treatments.’

 

Trials of Paxlovid, involving an initial 1,219 participants, were stopped early because it worked so well.

Among those who took the drug – which is made by US firm Pfizer – within three days of getting Covid symptoms, less than 1 per cent were admitted to hospital and none died.

Those given a dummy pill did much worse, with 7 per cent hospitalised and seven deaths.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the results were ‘incredible’ and that the medical regulator would now assess the drug’s safety and effectiveness.

He said: ‘If approved, this could be another significant weapon in our armoury to fight the virus alongside our vaccines and other treatments, including molnupiravir, which the UK was the first country in the world to approve this week.’ Albert Bourla, chief executive of Pfizer, said: ‘Today’s news is a real game-changer in the global efforts to halt the devastation of this pandemic.

‘These data suggest that our oral antiviral candidate, if approved or authorised by regulatory authorities, has the potential to save patients’ lives, reduce the severity of Covid-19 infections, and eliminate up to nine out of ten hospitalisations.’

Pfizer’s combination treatment contains a ‘protease inhibitor’, which blocks a key enzyme Covid needs to multiply in the body.

This is given with a low dose of an HIV drug called ritonavir, which keeps it in the body for longer to counteract the virus.

The pill works differently to molnupiravir, which was approved by the medical regulator on Thursday and is made by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and MSD – the UK arm of US pharmaceutical giant Merck.

Molnupiravir works by incorporating genetic errors into the virus so that it is less able to replicate. But both antiviral pills represent a landmark change in how the pandemic is tackled, as they could be taken at home without the need for infusions or injections.

When people were given Paxlovid within three days of symptoms appearing, 1 per cent were hospitalised in the following 28 days, and none died.

That compared to seven deaths among people given a dummy pill, among whom 6.7 per cent were hospitalised. The trials involved those who were unvaccinated, infected with the virus and were considered high-risk for hospitalisation due to health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The results have not yet been published in a journal or checked by other scientists.

Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, said the antivirals are ‘a vital element for the care of clinically vulnerable people who may be unable to either receive or respond to vaccines’.

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