A recent document published by the UK’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modeling, Operational subgroup (SPI-M-O), has triggered controversy among netizens due to its predictions about a potential third wave of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. SPI-M-O reports to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and advises the British government.
The authors predict that the “resurgence in both hospitalizations and deaths is dominated by those that have received two doses of the vaccine, comprising around 60% and 70% of the wave respectively. This can be attributed to the high levels of uptake in the most at-risk age groups, such that immunization failures account for more serious illness than unvaccinated individuals.”
“This shows that most deaths and admissions in a post-Roadmap resurgence are in people who have received two vaccine doses, even without vaccine protection waning or a variant emerging that escapes vaccines,” the document continues.
SPI-M-O predicts that since vaccine administration has been so high in the oldest age groups, modelled in the report at “95% in the over 50-year olds,” these groups will account for the majority of hospitalizations and deaths in a third wave. In total, an estimated 9.5% of over 50-year olds will be vaccinated but “not protected against death… This is not the result of vaccines being ineffective, merely uptake being so high.”
Widespread apprehension about vaccine adverse events
The SPI-M-O report partially blames people who choose “not to receive the vaccine” for the impending wave of infections. Critics have raised concerns that people who opt out of vaccination may be scorned as “criminals,” which would violate fundamental individual rights of freedom of choice and informed consent.
Many individuals, ranging from soldiers to quarantine staff and everyday people, do not trust the COVID-19 vaccines because, in comparison to the development of previous vaccines, they were created in a more abbreviated period with less rigorous testing and fewer animal trials.
According to the Wellcome Trust foundation, it can take up to 10 years for a vaccine to be fully developed through proper research and testing. However, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was only in development for six months before it was authorized for emergency use in the UK.
Given the short development timeline, the fact that the COVID-19 vaccines are still not officially approved by government organizations, and the unclear short and long-term side effects, apprehension is to be expected. Public reports of adverse events, such as about blood clots and associated deaths, led Danish authorities to ban the AstraZeneca vaccines.
The SPI-M-O report also claims that children will be one of the main drivers of the third wave because they are unvaccinated. Although clinical trials in children have recently started in the U.S., reliable safety and efficacy data could take months or years to collect.
According to provisional government plans, British kids are scheduled to be vaccinated starting in early August. Many are appalled by the prospect of vaccinating young generations of kids with a product that is still in early-stage clinical trials. Since children have relatively low mortality rates from COVID-19, estimated at about 0.003% in age groups between zero and 19 years old, vaccine adverse events could potentially be far more detrimental.
Professor Jeremy Brown, member of the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunization, predicts that the “big third wave” could end up causing tens of thousands of deaths even if the government strictly follows the vaccination plan. If the third wave is similar to previous waves that have hit Britain, Brown estimates a final death toll in the range of 30,000 to 50,000.
“So although the vaccines are important, there are the components to controlling this virus that are important and that is the social distancing measures that we have,” Brown told BBC Radio 4’s Today program.
Indian coronavirus variant found in UK
According to data from Public Health England (PHE), the Indian variant of SARS-CoV-2 virus, also known as B.1.617, has now spread to the UK, with 73 cases in England and four cases in Scotland. The variant has two spike protein mutations that may allow it to evade immune responses with greater ease.
“If you think about where the main variants have arisen – South Africa, the UK, California, Brazil, and now India – all of these are countries that have really struggled to keep case numbers down,” Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, told BBC.
India is currently not on the British government’s “red list” for travel, but is “under constant review.” A spokesman said, “We add and remove countries based on the latest scientific data and public health advice from a range of world-leading experts.”
Rising vaccination rates give no guarantee of reducing the threat of COVID-19. In fact, Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, expects vaccine protection to gradually erode over time as the virus mutates. However, he predicts that the vaccine will continue to provide enough protection to ease lockdown restrictions.
The UK has successfully completed the first phase of its vaccination program, with at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine delivered to 32 million inhabitants. Almost all citizens above the age of 50, the clinical vulnerable, and health and social care workers have been vaccinated. This group collectively accounts for almost 99 percent of deaths due to the pandemic. The second phase of the campaign began last week, targeting individuals aged 45 to 49. It is yet to be seen if vaccinated individuals will dominate the next wave of infections, as SPI-M-O predicts.