Page 22 - November 2021
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  THE SALAMANDER November 2021
Emerging from our lockdown restrictions
The problem with writing anything about the pandemic is that, by the time it gets to our members via Salamander, much could have changed. Predicting the way forward in this pandemic has been fraught with difficulties.
As I write this piece we are in the early weeks after Freedom Day, or perhaps it should have been called Take Personal Responsibility Day. Either way, it is too early to see if the hugging and kissing that followed will lead to an uncontrollable increase in infection, serious illness or death. So far, the signs are pretty good. The vaccines seem to have disrupted the link between infection and these events.
At the time of the last issue of Salamander there were still many uncertainties about the efficacy of the vaccines that were being developed and about how long it would take to fully vaccinate the adult population of the UK with any successful vaccine. The development of several effective vaccines took much less time than any of my virology colleagues had anticipated, due to major advances in the techniques for vaccine design and testing.
The UK has become the envy of many parts of the world, where there has often been a failure to ensure either adequate supplies of vaccines or effective systems for administering them in a timely manner. The success story here is largely due to a highly competent team of people, The UK Vaccines Taskforce, assembled by the
venture capitalist Kate Bingham. Essentially, she made a spread bet on which vaccines were most likely to succeed, based on an expert knowledge of the biotechnology industry. Amazingly, they came up trumps and we ended up with a very healthy supply of vaccines. If you would like to see how this story unfolded there is a fascinating interview with Kate Bingham, recorded at the Royal Society of Medicine, available at:
The speed with which the approved vaccines were rolled out was also a substantial achievement. As our fire service members often tell me, when it comes to fighting major fires, it’s all about the speed and weight of attack. When it came to getting vaccines into arms the UK managed to do this in spades.
Of course, it’s not over yet. Our Chief Medical Officer noted recently that we could be in for a difficult winter and that returning
to what we used to call normality was some way off. Visiting the City certainly confirms that there is no immediate appetite to travel into the office in any great numbers. As the late Donald Rumsfeld might have said, in the evolution of COVID-19 we have a number of known unknowns. These include the longevity of protection afforded by the current vaccines, the likelihood of new variants circumventing the effectiveness of these vaccines and the impact of respiratory infections in the coming winter. With regard to the latter, our highly effective social distancing last year kept as almost free from winter flu and other common respiratory ailments. Taking up the offer of a flu vaccine will be particularly important this winter.
Recent data from Israel suggest that vaccine efficacy is diminishing in the elderly, as would be anticipated. However, in the UK there are already plans to administer a booster to the most vulnerable age groups this autumn. By then, results from ongoing studies will be available to guide the choice of whether different vaccines from those used for the initial shots should be used for the booster doses. As to variants of the virus, it is normal for changes in structure to occur, and some may make the virus more transmissible or lead to more severe illness. The good news is that our current vaccines have proved highly effective against the variants encountered so far and the technology exists to enable the rapid development of new vaccines able to respond to structural changes in the virus.
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