COVID: UK vaccine trial expanded, US pause J&J jab rollout

  • UK expands its “mix and match” COVID vaccine trial to ascertain side effects of combining jabs
  • Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout paused amid blood clot fears
  • South African COVID variant spreading quickly across England
  • British firms agree to cut COVID test costs after backlash from holidaymakers and travel authorities

UK Scientists have raised concerns over the rapid spread of the South African COVID variant after health officials confirmed 44 new cases and 30 probable cases in the London boroughs of Lambeth and Wandsworth.

Members of the public reported huge queues outside of Lambeth Town Hall as people rushed to get COVID tests following the news.

The British government deployed surge testing immediately in north London. Simultaneously, the NHS Test and Trace service provided additional COVID tests in targeted areas of Southwark after scientists identified a case linked to a separate cluster.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already urged caution heading into the second stage of easing lockdown restrictions and said it’s inevitable that COVID cases, hospitalisation and death will rise as national lockdown restrictions begin to be lifted.

However, government scientist Professor Peter Openshaw warned ministers that the new cluster of cases could reverse the UK’s hard-won vaccine success and cause the country to revert to “square one”.

Prof Peter Openshaw told the BBC’s Newsnight: “We’re all hoping that the gradual relaxation of lockdown measures will go ahead without issue.

“However, a rapid spread of the South African variant or other more resistant mutations could force the UK government to put the reductions of lockdown into reverse.”

It comes after a study led by Professor Matthew Snape, from the Oxford Vaccine Group, on whether mixing and matching COVID vaccines produces longer-lasting immunity against the virus and mutant variations.

UK COVID vaccine trial expanded

UK “mix and match” COVID vaccine trial expanded

Today, officials confirmed that a major UK trial being conducted to assess whether combining the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine with the Pfizer-BioNTech jab will offer better protection against the coronavirus is being expanded.

Professor Matthew Snape, who is leading the trial, said he hopes to recruit more than 1,000 over-50s who have already received their first COVID vaccine and offer them the same jab or the Moderna and Novavax alternatives.

Currently, 800 people are participating in the trial – all of which have received two doses of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccine or a combination of the two.

Scientists expect the results for the first stage of the trial to be ready by May-end, with the second set of data prepared for June or July.

The broader health community believes that combining vaccines will positively impact immunity, but the trial will ascertain whether any unwanted reactions or rare side effects occur.

If the “mix and match” study proves successful, this will be a massive win for the UK’s vaccination programme and the global vaccine rollout. Combining vaccines will increase the resilience and flexibility of immunisation campaigns, especially as countries continue to grapple with vaccine supply issues.

Recent headlines revealing that the US, South Africa and European Union have paused the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) jab amid fears that the vaccine is linked to rare blood clotting is also weighing on vaccine ambitions.

Johnson & Johnson jab suspended

Johnson & Johnson vaccine paused amid blood clot fears

The United States have temporarily suspended the rollout of the J&J vaccine after one patient died following the jab, and another is now in critical condition after being admitted to hospital with blood clots.

US health bosses have launched an investigation into the jab’s safety after officials raised concerns over a possible connection between blood clots and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Of the 6.8 million people that received the vaccine, six cases of blood clots have been detected, said the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the news appears to have rocked public confidence in the jab, which was already shaky following the fiasco with the AstraZeneca shot.

All six people that have been identified with blood clots are women aged between 18 and 48, with symptoms appearing six to 13 days after receiving the injection.

The EU has also suspended its rollout of the Johnson & Johnson, which will no doubt ramp up pressure on its already sluggish vaccination programme.

London’s blue-chip FTSE 100 Index and Wall Street took a hit following the J&J COVID jab setback, which poses a threat to the US vaccine rollout.

While the US has other vaccines in its artillery, financial markets appear to be unsettled as the J&J suspension could delay the country’s vaccination ambitions.

Although the FTSE 100 Index and Wall Street have made a tentative recovery heading into the North American session, both indices remain little moved.

London’s bluechip index is up by 0.64% or 43.92 points at 6,934.41, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) has climbed 0.60% higher or 200.99 points to 33,878.26.

Most are cautiously optimistic about the global economy’s future. Still, challenges remain as delays to vaccine programmes and signs that more dangerous COVID variants are spreading could cause governments to reimpose lockdown rules.

The UK has already ramped up testing after identifying a cluster of the South African variant in London. A private testing firm has also agreed to cut the costs of COVID tests amid profiteering accusations.

COVID testing firm Randox slashes coronavirus test prices

The developer of a rapid COVID-19 test, Randox, has agreed to slash prices on testing kits for holidaymakers after being accused of profiteering by The Telegraph.

According to The Telegraph, some coronavirus testing firms – including Randox – had charged travellers up to GBP 300 for “out of hours” tests, a staggering six times the amount of best-value competitors.

The COVID-19 testing firm, which currently markets PCR tests for GBP 120 on its website, said it would now charge holidaymakers GBP 60.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also warned companies involved in profiteering behaviour that he would remove them from the Government-approved list of testing firms if caught.

Transport minister Mr Shapps also gave holidaymakers the green light to book summer holiday trips, albeit he failed to offer any guidance on which countries would be on the UK’s “green list.”

Experts have suggested that the Caribbean islands, Spain, Malta, Portugal and Thailand could be among the first to feature on the “green list”, but the travel industry and holiday-goers will have to wait until early May for any official information.

However, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson came under fresh pressure to move faster with roadmap easing today after data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed 25% of registered COVID deaths were not caused by the virus.

According to the ONS, 23% of people said to have passed away due to COVID died actually “with” the virus and not “from” the disease, painting a more positive picture of the actual coronavirus crisis in Britain.

Despite the positive data, Mr Johnson remains reluctant to an earlier easing of restrictions, especially amid renewed concerns over the South African variant.

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