HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 14 September 2021

Media Coverage

Over-50s to receive booster Covid vaccine for winter
The Times, Steven Swinford and Chris Smyth, 14 September 2021

The Times reports that most adults will be offered a Covid booster jab in the coming months and children over 12 can receive a first dose.

Boris Johnson will confirm that 32 million adults over 50 will be offered a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna booster jab.

The booster programme will begin next week, and people will be offered the vaccine six months after their second dose. It will follow the same priority list as the initial programme, with care home workers and residents, the over-80s and NHS workers first in line.


Parliamentary Coverage

Government sets out pragmatic new timetable for introducing border controls
Cabinet Office and The Rt Hon Lord Frost CMG, 14 September 2021

The government has set out a pragmatic new timetable for introducing full import controls for goods being imported from the EU to the UK.

The pandemic has affected supply chains in the UK and across Europe. The government has revised the timetable of introducing new controls and regulations to give businesses more time to prepare for the changes.

Full customs declarations and controls will be introduced on 1 January 2022 as previously announced, although safety and security declarations will now not be required until 1 July 2022. The introduction of requirements for pre-notification of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) goods, Export Health Certificates, Safety and Security declarations on imports and Phytosanitary Certificates and physical checks on SPS goods at Border Control Posts will be delayed and phased in throughout 2022.

Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, Lord Frost, said: “We want businesses to focus on their recovery from the pandemic rather than have to deal with new requirements at the border, which is why we’ve set out a pragmatic new timetable for introducing full border controls.”

Young people aged 12 to 15 to be offered a COVID-19 vaccine
The Department of Health and Social Care, 13 September 2021

The Department of Health and Social Care announced that people aged 12 to 15 in England will be offered a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Invitations for vaccination will begin next week.

This development follows advice to ministers from the 4 UK Chief Medical Officers. For this age group to receive the vaccine, parental, guardian, or carer consent will be required prior to the vaccination.

The NHS is preparing to deliver a schools-based vaccination programme, which is the successful model used for vaccinations including for HPV and Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP), supported by GPs and community pharmacies.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid said: “I have accepted the recommendation from the Chief Medical Officers to expand vaccination to those aged 12 to 15 – protecting young people from catching COVID-19, reducing transmission in schools and keeping pupils in the classroom.”

This was also reported by The GuardianSky NewsIndependentEvening StandardThe Telegraph and BBC News.

Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (EUC Report)
House of Lords, Volume 814, Monday 13 September 2021

Lord Dodds of Duncarin (DUP): The issues at stake in Northern Ireland in terms of trade, sovereignty, the democratic deficit and political stability affect everyone and not just the unionist community. Diversion of trade, obstacles to access to goods at a reasonable price—and to the same range of goods as previously—access to medicines and access to a whole range of manufactured goods for businesses and consumers are issues that affect everyone and not just unionists. It is vital therefore that we address them in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office Lord Frost (Conservative): If there is relative calm in Northern Ireland at the moment, it is because the proposals in our Command Paper are recognised as serious and enjoy a lot of support, and because there is an expectation that the EU will take them seriously. We therefore agree with the assessment of the committees’ reports that the UK and EU must collectively take urgent action to address the situation as it now is. If our proposals in the Command Paper were agreed, they would satisfactorily address many of the reports’ conclusions, including those on at-risk goods, supplementary declarations, parcels, medicines, livestock, pets, VAT, quotas—the list goes on.

As we know, the problem is that the protocol is not delivering in its current form. It is not delivering on its core objectives: to minimise disruption to everyday lives, to respect Northern Ireland’s integral place in the UK’s internal market and, above all, to preserve the delicate balance in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, in all its dimensions. Once again, I very much agree with the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, that the protocol must ultimately be viewed through the lens of the peace process.


Full Coverage

Over-50s to receive booster Covid vaccine for winter
The Times, Steven Swinford and Chris Smyth, 14 September 2021

Most adults will be offered a Covid booster jab in the coming months and children over 12 can receive a first dose as Boris Johnson seeks to protect Britain against a “prolonged and unpredictable” winter.

The prime minister will confirm today that 32 million adults over 50 will be offered a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna jab to ensure that their protection continues.

Under the booster programme, which begins next week, people will be offered the vaccine six months after their second dose, pushing the bulk of third jabs later into the autumn. It will follow the same priority list as the initial programme, with care home workers and residents, the over-80s and NHS workers first in line.

The NHS will also begin offering a first dose to three million children aged 12-15 after Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, said it would avoid disruption to education.

He emphasised, however, that it was up to parents and children to decide whether to have the jab, given that the benefits were so much more marginal than for adults. Consent letters are expected to be sent this week. School vaccination teams will be ready to administer the first jabs next week.

The teenagers will get one dose, with the decision on a second put off until next term. Most of the benefit is from the first dose. Side-effects in teenagers have largely been seen after the second.

Whitty warned of a “prolonged and unpredictable” epidemic over the colder months. He said: “Anybody who believes the big risk of Covid is now all in the past . . . has not understood where we’re going to head as we go into autumn and winter. There will continue to be challenges, there will continue to be pressure on the NHS.”

Johnson will warn that “the pandemic is far from over” but will seek to argue that “thanks to our phenomenal vaccine programme, new treatments and testing, we are able to live with the virus without significant restrictions on our freedoms”. He will publish the government’s Covid winter plan today, with a “toolkit” of contingency measures.

They include the return of compulsory masks and work-from-home guidance. Vaccine passports will be held in reserve for nightclubs and other large venues if they are needed. Downing Street said yesterday that nationwide lockdowns would be implemented only as a “last resort”, although Johnson is strongly opposed to them. Ministers hope that pleas to be cautious in areas where infections are rising rapidly will help to limit the spread of the virus.

The British Medical Association warned yesterday that the NHS was short of an estimated 50,000 doctors, before what it fears will be one of the worst winters on record.

Ministers are expected this week to confirm that fully vaccinated travellers will no longer need to take expensive PCR tests before they fly abroad. They will use cheaper lateral flow tests.

The red, amber and green system for international travel is also likely to be scrapped from next month and replaced with a simple red list. Some coronavirus legislation will also be scrapped to appease Tory MPs.

Cases in England are falling, with 21,077 yesterday, meaning that the rolling average is down for the fifth day in a row, at the start of a week in which the effect of the return of nine million pupils to class is likely to become clearer.

Whitty said that vaccination of teenagers “will reduce the number of outbreaks in schools” but warned it was “not a silver bullet” and that other measures would be needed to control the virus among young people. He insisted that teenagers were not being vaccinated to prevent a winter surge of infections in older people, stressing that he was recommending jabs solely to protect children themselves.

He said, however, it was likely that vaccinating children would help to protect elderly relatives. “Anybody who has a vaccine is protecting people around them as well as themselves,” he said. “So all adults being vaccinated will reduce the risk to children and probably the same is going to be true the other way.”

The chief medical officer also said that childhood vaccination would not interfere with booster jabs for older people as there was plenty of stock.

Booster jabs will largely be given by GPs and pharmacies, along with other vaccination centres, while teenagers will get jabs in schools. But the decision will require the NHS to gear up for another big push on vaccination after a summer of low numbers. On Sunday 14,955 people got a first dose, with daily doses running at an eighth of June levels.

The decision to recommend a six-month gap between a second jab and a booster came after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) concluded that a longer wait is likely to offer more durable protection. This follows its original decision to recommend a 12-week gap between doses, which ministers have credited with avoiding the waning immunity in Israel, which kept to a three-week gap.

The decision means that although boosters can begin this month, the vast majority of older people will have to wait until October or later. First doses peaked in late March, suggesting the NHS will face a rush of demand just before the new year, which is traditionally the most difficult for hospitals.

Many senior scientists, including the creator of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, Dame Sarah Gilbert, and international experts writing in The Lancet, have concluded that there is no need for a booster campaign. But the JCVI was convinced by data showing they help the immune system. Last week The Times revealed that results from the Cov-Boost study of booster jabs showed a “several-fold increase” in antibodies.

Analysis revealed yesterday that the £37 billion test and trace programme may only have reduced transmission of Covid-19 by as little as 6 per cent.

Ministers have previously insisted that the scheme has been value for money, suggesting it may have prevented up to two million cases. However, the UK Health Security Agency now says that its impact may have been more limited when compared to a policy of simply asking people with symptoms and their households to isolate, without taking a test.

The new study found that test and trace may only have cut cases by between 6 and 19 per cent — with as few as 900,000 additional cases being identified since August 2020. However, the study’s authors acknowledged that without a testing regime, more than double the number of people would have had to stay at home.

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin –  14 September 2021

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