UK PM names Nadhim Zahawi as minister responsible for vaccine deployment

UK PM names Nadhim Zahawi as minister responsible for vaccine deployment
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has named Nadhim Zahawi, currently a junior business minister, as the minister responsible for COVID-19 vaccine deployment. (File/AFP)
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Updated 28 November 2020

UK PM names Nadhim Zahawi as minister responsible for vaccine deployment

UK PM names Nadhim Zahawi as minister responsible for vaccine deployment
  • Johnson said Conservative lawmaker Nadhim Zahawi will oversee the country’s biggest vaccine program in decades
  • The UK medicines regulator is currently assessing two vaccines to see if they are safe and effective

LONDON: The British government appointed a vaccines minister on Saturday as it prepares to inoculate millions of people against the coronavirus, potentially starting within days.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Conservative lawmaker Nadhim Zahawi will oversee the country’s biggest vaccine program in decades.
The UK medicines regulator is currently assessing two vaccines — one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, the other by Oxford University and AstraZeneca — to see if they are safe and effective. The Guardian newspaper reported that hospitals have been told they could receive the first doses of the Pfizer shot the week of Dec. 7, if it receives approval.
The UK says frontline health care workers and nursing home residents will be the first to be vaccinated, followed by older people, starting with those over age 80.
Britain has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, enough for 20 million people, and 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
In all, the UK government has agreed to purchase up to 355 million doses of vaccine from seven different producers, as it prepares to vaccinate as many of the country’s 67 million people as possible.
Decisions about which, if any, vaccines to authorize will be made by the independent Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
Pfizer and BioNTech say their vaccine is 95% effective, according to preliminary data. It must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures of around minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit).
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored at conventional refrigerator temperatures, and is also cheaper than its main rivals. But some scientists have questioned gaps in its reported results.
Oxford and AstraZeneca reported this week that their vaccine appeared to be 62% effective in people who received two doses, and 90% effective when volunteers were given a half dose followed by a full dose. They said the half dose was administered because of a manufacturing error, and they plan a new clinical trial to investigate the most effective dosing regimen.
The British government hopes a combination of vaccines and mass testing will end the need for restrictions on business and everyday life it imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Britain has had Europe’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, with more than 57,000 confirmed virus-related deaths.
The prime minister said this week that officials hope to inoculate “the vast majority of the people who need the most protection by Easter.” But he warned that “we must first navigate a hard winter” of restrictions.
A four-week national lockdown in England is due to end Wednesday, and will be replaced by three-tiered system of regional measures that restrict business activity, travel and socializing. The vast majority of the country is being put into the upper two tiers.
Johnson faces opposition to the measures from dozens of his own Conservative Party’s lawmakers, who say the economic damage outweighs the public health benefits.
Bur Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the restrictions were “grimly” necessary to avoid the health system being overwhelmed this winter.
Writing in The Times of London, Gove said there are currently 16,000 coronavirus patients in British hospitals, not far below the April peak of 20,000. A rise in infections would mean coronavirus patients would “displace all but emergency cases. And then even those.," he said.
“If, however, we can keep the level of infection stable or, even better, falling, and hold out through January and February, then we can be confident that vaccination will pull the plug on the problem,” Gove wrote.


UK scientists warn too early to tell if new COVID-19 variant more deadly

UK scientists warn too early to tell if new COVID-19 variant more deadly
Updated 48 min 59 sec ago

UK scientists warn too early to tell if new COVID-19 variant more deadly

UK scientists warn too early to tell if new COVID-19 variant more deadly
  • PM Boris Johnson had previously said evidence showed higher mortality rate 
  • Top medics have said it is “too early” to say whether the variant carries with it a higher mortality rate

LONDON: The discovery of a new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) variant in the UK should not alter the response to the pandemic, scientists say, despite fears that it could prove more deadly.
Top medics have said it is “too early” to say whether the variant, thought to be up to 70 percent more transmissible, carries with it a higher mortality rate.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed there was “some evidence” the variant had “a higher degree of mortality” at a press conference on Friday, Jan. 22, with the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, adding it could be up to 30 percent more deadly. 
That came after a briefing by the UK government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) said there was a “realistic possibility” of an increased risk of death.
Prof. Peter Horby, Nervtag’s chairman, said: “Scientists are looking at the possibility that there is increased severity ... and after a week of looking at the data we came to the conclusion that it was a realistic possibility.
“We need to be transparent about that. If we were not telling people about this we would be accused of covering it up.”
But infectious disease modeller Prof. Graham Medley, one of the authors of the Nervtag briefing, told the BBC: “The question about whether it is more dangerous in terms of mortality I think is still open.
He added: “In terms of making the situation worse it is not a game changer. It is a very bad thing that is slightly worse.”
Dr. Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling for the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said he was “quite surprised” Johnson had made the claim.
“I just worry that where we report things pre-emptively where the data are not really particularly strong,” he added.