Moderna vaccine approved for use in UK as deaths reach pandemic high

Jane Kirby, PA Health Editor
·6-min read

A third vaccine in the fight against coronavirus has been approved for use in the UK as the country recorded its highest number of Covid-19 deaths reported on a single day.

The jab, from US biotech firm Moderna, has been given the green light by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) – joining the vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca.

It comes as the Government said 1,325 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 – the highest number of UK deaths reported on a single day since the outbreak began.

There were a further 68,053 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, the highest figure reported in a single day since the start of mass testing last May, although it may have been higher in April 2020 when mass testing was not taking place, with cases estimated to have been as high as 100,000 per day at the peak of the first wave.

The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital in England also stood at a record 29,346 as of 8am on Friday, up by 30% from a week ago, while admissions also hit a new high with a total of 3,967 admissions in England reported for January 6, passing the previous record of 3,697 on January 5, according to NHS England figures.

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK.
(PA Graphics)

In London, mayor Sadiq Khan declared a “major incident” as the spread of coronavirus threatens to “overwhelm” the capital’s hospitals.

City Hall said Covid-19 cases in London had exceeded 1,000 per 100,000, while there are 35% more people in hospital with the virus than in the peak of the pandemic in April.

NHS England figures published later on Friday showed the number of Covid patients in London hospitals stands at 7,277, up 32% on the previous week.

A “major incident” means the “severity of the consequences” associated with it are “likely to constrain or complicate the ability of responders to resource and manage the incident”.

Professor Kevin Fenton, Public Health England’s regional director for London, said: “This is the biggest threat our city has faced in this pandemic to date.

“The emergence of the new variant means we are setting record case rates at almost double the national average, with at least one in 30 people (in London) now thought to be carrying the virus.

“Our NHS services are under immense pressure and currently another 800 people are being admitted to our hospitals every day.”

Elsewhere, hospitals also reported increasing pressures, with more than half of all major hospital trusts in England currently having more Covid-19 patients than at the peak of the first wave.

A doctor from Merseyside said her hospital is “almost at the limit” with patients having to wait in corridors or ambulances.

Covid-19 growth rates
(PA Graphics)

The approval of the Moderna jab means the UK should have three vaccines to use when it comes on stream in spring.

The Government has increased its order of the vaccine to 17 million doses – enough to vaccinate 8.5 million people – with batches expected to be released in phases.

It has been shown to be 94% effective against Covid-19 in clinical trials.

Mr Johnson tweeted: “Excellent news the @MHRAgovuk has approved the use of the @moderna_tx vaccine.

“Our national vaccine effort is accelerating to vaccinate priority groups with our existing two vaccines, and the Moderna doses will add to that when they become available in spring.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted: “This is fantastic news and another weapon in our arsenal to tame this awful disease.”

Cumulative Covid-19 vaccinations in the UK
(PA Graphics)

Nearly 1.5 million people in the UK have already been vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccines, with the Government aiming to jab 15 million of those most at risk by mid-February.

Scientists advising the Government believe the current lockdown may lead to a plateau of cases of coronavirus across the UK rather than the dramatic cut seen in the March and April lockdown.

They estimate there are currently more than 100,000 new infections per day and possibly higher than 150,000.

They believe this estimate puts the current number of daily cases at a higher level than during the first wave of the pandemic.

Hospitals are now seeing far more younger people than during the first wave.

With the current lockdown and vaccine rollout, deaths from coronavirus are expected to start dropping in February, while hospital admissions should drop after that.

Coronavirus cases are expected to drop in the spring due to vaccination plus the fact people spend more time outdoors, making it harder for the virus to spread.

Elsewhere, new research published on Friday suggests the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech appears to protect against a mutation in two coronavirus variants that are causing spread across the UK.

The pharmaceutical giant and researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch carried out lab tests on the strains, one of which was found in the UK while the other originated in South Africa.

Both variants contain mutations including N501Y, an alteration in the spike protein of the virus, which is a target for vaccines.

In the new study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, people given the Pfzier jab had neutralising levels of antibodies which appeared to work against N501Y in the new strains.

However, one of the mutations in the South Africa variant, named E484K, has not yet been studied and is still causing concern for experts.

While scientists at the top of Government increasingly believe the UK variant can be tacked with existing vaccines, there is concern that the South African variant has the potential to make them less effective, though studies are ongoing.

Public behaviours over the Christmas period
(PA Graphics)

In future years, it is thought that Covid-19 vaccines will need to be tweaked annually much in the same way the winter flu jab is.

It comes as:

– The reproductive rate – the R rate – of the virus is thought to be between one and 1.4. The R refers to the number of people an infected person will pass the virus onto.

– Police in England and Wales have handed out more than 30,000 fines under coronavirus laws since the start of the pandemic.

– Most school pupils in Wales will be taught online until January 29, with this continuing until the February half-term unless there is a “significant reduction” in Covid-19 cases, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

– Around one in 50 people in England have coronavirus, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Meanwhile, eight in 10 recent positive cases of Covid-19 in London and eastern England could be the new variant discovered in the UK.

– Some 44% of adults in England, Scotland and Wales said they formed a Christmas day bubble, ONS data shows.

Meanwhile, papers released by the Government from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), which advises ministers, suggests communication campaigns will be needed to ensure those who are vaccinated continue to adhere to lockdown rules.

It said there was some evidence that, “in the absence of any mitigation policies, some of those who have been vaccinated will show a reduction in personal protective behaviours” such as mask-wearing and social distancing.

It is not yet known whether vaccination can prevent people passing the virus onto other people.