The increase in cases in the UK is due to the spread of the Delta – or Indian – variant, which is estimated to be between 40 and 60% more contagious than the Alpha – or Kent – variant.
On Wednesday 9 June, the United Kingdom recorded 7,540 new cases, an increase of 75% compared to the previous Wednesday (4,330 on 2 June). These new cases pushed the UK seven-day daily average to 5,984.
Over the same period, the average number of cases in France fell to 5,654.
This is the first time that the “graphic curves” of the countries have crossed since February 4.
(GRAPH: OuestFrance / Santé publique France / Public Health England)
Although lower in the UK in daily cases on June 9, the seven-day incidence level (the number of cases per 100,000 people) is still higher in France, at 67.8 cases for the 6 June, against 56 cases. Hospital admissions also remain “largely stable” in the UK, according to Health Minister Matt Hancock.
Figures from Public Health England (PHE) show that 54.2% of the UK population had been fully vaccinated as of June 8. This against 21% in France.
The UK currently uses three vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca; with the latter much more widely used than in France.
Experts believe its widespread use of the AstraZeneca vaccine could be one of the reasons for the rapid spread of the Delta variant in the UK.
President of government advisory council the Scientific Council, Professor Jean-François Delfraissy, Told France 2: “In England they vaccinate most people using AstraZeneca, which has less than 30% protection against the Indian variant [Delta].
“In France, we are mainly vaccinated with mRNA vaccines, which are more effective. “
Read more: How is France following the spread of the Indian variant of Covid-19?
On May 9, President Emmanuel Macron declared that the country should “continue to vaccinate” with AstraZeneca, as this “will help us out of the crisis”. And yet, a month later, the number of AstraZeneca injections performed in France is at its lowest.
According to to the last digits, only 15,000 first doses of AstraZeneca jab have been injected in France during the last seven days; the lowest weekly level since the vaccine was introduced in February.
(CHART: BFTMV / Public Health France)
AstraZeneca is still the second most administered vaccine in the country overall, with 5.5 million, ahead of 3.7 million for Moderna – but far behind the most used vaccine in France, which is Pfizer, with 31.2 million injections.
However, since May, the number of weekly injections of Moderna has exceeded AstraZeneca, with even the single-dose Janssen vaccine now being given more.
(CHART: BFTMV / Public Health France)
France still has 2.6 million doses of AstraZeneca “in the refrigerator” ready to be administered. About 2.7 million people vaccinated since mid-March will need to receive their second dose over the next few weeks, to meet the 9 to 12 week gap between doses recommended by manufacturers.
The government has stated that “a large part of this stock will be used for second doses” and that it will not be wasted.
France could also offer “walk-in” vaccinations to ensure the use of AstraZeneca’s remaining stock.
But confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine is low. An Elabe survey for BFMTV found that only 31% of the French “had confidence” in the jab, against 54% who did not have it and 15% who had “no sight”.
Part of the “rest” stock from France – or stock that was originally intended for delivery to France – is also sent to the Covax program, for use in developing countries. When stored properly, vaccines last seven months before going bad.
A government source said: “By the end of the week, more than 800,000 doses of AstraZeneca will have been donated, mostly to African countries.
“By the end of June, it will be 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca. These will be deducted from the deliveries that we were to receive in France, and are collected directly from the factories, then delivered to Senegal and Mauritania, for example.
AstraZeneca vaccination “failed”?
The Delta variant is estimated to be up to 60% more contagious than the Alpha variant first discovered in Kent last December, said Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London.
Some have suggested that the increase in the number of cases in the UK is a sign that AstraZeneca’s mass vaccination campaign has ‘failed’. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was now uncertainty over whether the UK should ease all Covid rules as planned on June 21.
But, while the number of cases has increased, deaths, intensive care admissions and hospitalizations are not following the same trend. The number of deaths in the United Kingdom is still lower than that of France (0.14 per million inhabitants compared to 1.11 in France).
Hospitalizations may increase in some areas, but not at the same rate as cases, and not at the rate of Wave 2.
This means that the first goal of vaccines – to prevent people from contracting severe cases of the disease, and therefore to reduce saturation and pressure on hospitals – appears to have been achieved.
The second objective of vaccines is undoubtedly to confer collective immunity on the population. The more contagious a strain, the higher the vaccination coverage of the country must be before reaching this threshold.
For the British strain, the required threshold has been estimated at 70% of adults, but the greater contagion of the Indian Delta variant now means it will likely have to increase to 90%.
The higher proportion of vaccine coverage in the UK gives it an advantage on this front over France, so far. But, as we are still far from a 90% coverage rate, this could explain the increase in cases.
Could the UK just let the virus spread, if the death toll is still low?
Immunology specialist Professor Jean-Daniel Lelièvre said that while the idea is tempting, especially as a way to increase herd immunity, he said it is not practical in the long term.
The Told Le Figaro: “Variants emerge when the virus spreads a lot. At the moment, none of the [strains] is out of control, but who knows what will happen tomorrow.
So far, the consensus seems to be that the UK has succeeded in preventing the most vulnerable people from contracting a severe form of the disease and preventing overcrowding in intensive care units.
Yet the longer a population does not have collective immunity, the more likely it is that variants will emerge.
Will the Delta variant also spread in France?
Professor Delfraissy said the Delta variant “will appear more significantly in France” over the summer, and will gradually replace the Alpha variant, or “UK”. Still, he added that the widespread use of mRNA vaccines (like Pfizer and Moderna) in France is expected to slow the spread.
The spacing between vaccine doses is also longer in the UK than in France, up to 12 weeks compared to just over 5 weeks in France.
French Health Minister Olivier Véran recently authorized the extension of the gap by several weeks, so that people traveling on summer vacation in the coming months do not miss their second dose.
Read more: Updates from Covid France June 3: Indian variant and vaccine mix
Research published in a medical journal The Lancette shown that it is sure to have a 12 week gap between doses, but research from the Institut Pasteur, also published in The Lancette, expressed concern that the second dose was delayed too long as the Delta variant spreads, as a single dose provides very little coverage.
The study authors said: “Overall, our results suggest that a single dose of AstraZeneca vaccine will not show optimal protection against B.1.617.2. [the Delta variant]. »
Likewise, the UK Department of Health said that the gap in Northern Ireland will now be reduced to eight weeks, to ensure faster full coverage, as the Delta variant spreads across the region.
The coming summer
Despite the drop in the number of cases in France, the World Health Organization called for caution in Europe during the summer.
He warned of the “mistake” of summer 2020, when the relaxation of Covid rules resulted in a possible increase in cases in the fall.
WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge mentionned: “Over the past summer, cases gradually increased in the youngest age groups, then moved to older age groups, contributing to a devastating resurgence, lockdowns and deaths in fall and winter. Let’s not make this mistake again.
WHO figures show that across Europe, only 30% of the population has received a first dose of the vaccine, and only 17% are fully immunized.
Dr Kluge said: “Vaccination coverage is far from sufficient to protect the area from an outbreak. There is still a long way to go to achieve at least 80% coverage of the adult population.
He called for maintaining hygiene and distancing measures and avoiding travel abroad until the number of vaccinations has increased.
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