COVID-19 and where-are-we-now

Posted this on Facebook initially, and reposted here for easier sharing

Some general where-we-are-now thoughts on pandemic stuff.

TLDR — We’re in the “optimistic but…” phase. Hopefully heading in the right direction but we desperately need to avoid a twist in the tail

— The UK roadmap

“Drive by data, not dates” says Boris Johnson. Followed immediately by a series of dates and a bunch of tests with no indication as to what data is needed to move onto the next phase of the unlockdown. That’s problematic and means it’ll be much harder politically to get to June and say that actually we’ll need to keep these places shut for a while longer.

But, overall, it is at least nowhere near as desperately awful as it could have been (some MPs calling for lockdown to stop completely right now, ignore them, they are people who should know better). There’s a phased return and it’s broadly in the right order (so schools first with indoor spaces like pubs etc much later on). In my view, the timescale are too short, for example no leeway if there’s an interruption/slow-down to the vaccine programme. And the fine detail will be important, for example on a personal level I’d prefer schools to go back in stages rather than all in one go.

- Vaccines

And the data is coming in, here in the UK and around the world. Vaccines are great, and awesomely safe. When you can, join the queue. The whole opening up of society depends upon this liquid genius, so it’s a fragile attempt at brokering peace, but ultimately a wonderful weapon to have available.

On a cautious note, we need high uptake. A 90% effective vaccine leaves 10% of people vulnerable (that would still be around 6 million in the UK) and if you had an 80% uptake that’s an additional 12 million or so who don’t take the vaccine. So ~18 million susceptible people in the UK where the virus can have a merry dance.
We’ve had a brilliant high uptake in older and vulnerable populations, will we get it in younger populations? That’s crucial, for reasons above and here’s another two

- Long COVID
This is being observed in younger fitter people, including in children, and in people who have mild initial infections. About 20% of people have symptoms about 5 weeks beyond their infection period, and 10% with symptoms 10 weeks later. It is debilitating, from fatigue to breathlessness to not being able to taste your food (which is a worse side effect that it perhaps immediately appears to be).

Some back of the envelope calculations- there’s prob about 15% of the UK population who have had COVID-19, give or take that’s ~9 million people, so 900k people with long COVID lasting minimum 3 months. You don’t hear too much about them in the press, but I can guarantee there’s a few people reading this who are suffering from long COVID.

- Variants

Too much COVID-19 and this coronavirus mutates into something slightly different. Variants have been observed in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, and they’re the ones we know about. The UK variant is now the dominant version in many countries including Ghana and Portugal. It travels fast and easily across borders. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear to impact upon the vaccine. But, some other variants do.

So, too much COVID-19 = new variants = threats to the vaccine = potentially heading back to/somewhere near square one.

We can’t let that happen. Hence why lockdown continues right now, and hence why many of us are cautious and nervous about reopening society with the timescale in the roadmap. It might be okay, but relying on good fortune hasn’t been the best policy in 130k-dead-already-United-Kingdom.

- Booking holidays abroad

I’m not. See variants paragraph and the cautionary notes in the vaccines paragraph above.

— I feel very fortunate


I’m university staff but hospital based. I was lucky enough to get a call up through the hospital for an end-of-the-vial dose (which would otherwise have been wasted) of the Pfizer vaccine.
So I’ve got a 90% (give or take) chance of having superpowers, and I’m absolutely delighted, and want these superpowers to last.

Links

Article on long COVID https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/long-covid-symptoms-meaning-study-a9679876.html

Vaccine effectiveness https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2021/02/23/covid-19-analysing-first-vaccine-effectiveness-in-the-uk/

Variants and vaccines https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-55659820

Vaccine safety https://michael-g-head.medium.com/covid-19-and-vaccine-safety-20e5c48a94f5

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Michael G Head

I’m am a researcher focusing on infectious diseases, I have a background in public health research and epidemiology.