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SAGE scientist admits modelling underestimated the power of vaccines

A SAGE scientist has admitted the Covid modelling that spooked No10 into delaying ‘Freedom Day’ last month underestimated the power of vaccines.

Dr Mike Tildesley was behind one of the more optimistic models which predicted there could be 72,000 deaths from the virus before next winter due to the rapidly rising Indian variant.

But the Warwick University expert has now confessed Britain is ‘in a much better situation than we thought’ when the models were published last month.

Asked whether the original terminus date on June 21 could have gone ahead safely, he said: ‘In hindsight, possibly.’

The Government and its scientists have come under criticism about the modes, some of which forecast up to 200,000 deaths in a worst-case scenario, because they used out of date data on the vaccines.

The forecasts were based on the assumption that the AstraZeneca vaccine only cut the risk of hospitalisation from the Indian ‘Delta’ variant by a maximum of 77 per cent, and Pfizer‘s by 84 per cent. 

The calculations were published on Monday, June 14, and it later emerged that Public Health England was sitting on real-world data showing they were much more effective than that from at least Friday, June 11.  

Warwick scientists also predicted there would be 500 to 600 hospitalisations a day now because of the Indian variant. But the country is in fact seeing around 250.  

It comes as PHE said today there had been 50,824 new cases of the Indian variant in the last week, with the mutant strain now accounting for 96 per cent of all infections in Britain. 

But there is confidence brewing in No10 at the fact hospitalisations and deaths have remained stagnant in the face of the extremely infectious strain. 

Boris Johnson is doubling-down on his re-scheduled July 19 reopening, telling reporters yesterday that vaccines had ‘broken the link’ between cases and deaths. 

Daily Covid hospitalisations are currently half of SAGE’s most optimistic forecasts fore June 22, which predicted there would be around 531 admissions a day by this time

SAGE scientist admits modelling underestimated the power of vaccines

1. Matching 2nd wave cases to 3rd wave, increase is identical

4. ...and even more crucially, it’s now so different for deaths too

Boris Johnson yesterday hailed vaccines for ‘breaking the link’ between Covid infections (left) and deaths (right). Despite infections soaring to levels on par with the second wave, deaths have remained almost completely flat

2. ...back then, hospital admissions soared – now they’re almost flat...

3. ...the story is the same for the number of patients in hospital...

This has also meant that hospital admissions are running at a tenth of level at the same time at the start of the second wave (left) and kept the NHS at manageable occupancy (right) 

Dr Mike Tildesley has admitted Britain was in a 'better situation than we thought' when the models were published

Dr Mike Tildesley has admitted Britain was in a ‘better situation than we thought’ when the models were published

Dr Tildesley, who is a member of the Government’s SPI-M (Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling), admitted in an interview with Unherd: ‘We’re in a position that the vaccine efficacy is a lot more effective, but this is the caveat here, the delay also enabled us to vaccinate a lot more people with a slightly higher level of restrictions in place.

‘These models are only as good as the data that goes in.

‘I work as an infectious disease modeller and I’ve always said that models should only form part of the decision-making process — you need health experts, economists, social scientists and a huge range of expertise.’

Officials insisted the estimates came too late to be included in the models. But Dr Susan Hopkins, the deputy director of PHE’s national infection service, admitted to MPs that the Government knew about the figures at least a week before the models were published. It suggests ministers pushed ahead with the publication instead of trying to use the latest available data.  

The Indian variant sparked concern when it began to spread rapidly in the country and replace the Kent ‘Alpha’ strain which caused the devastating second wave. But amid a successful vaccination roll-out hospitalisations and deaths from the virus have remained flat.  

Modelling by SAGE scientists predicted there could be more than 200,000 fatalities from the virus by next June in a ‘worst case’ scenario, although this figure was quickly disputed by critics.

Warwick University's model showed there could be between 72,400 to 17,100 total deaths this summer and autumn, with daily deaths ranging from fewer than 500 per day to 3,000 depending on how well the vaccines work. The new PHE data means these estimates will likely be too high

Warwick University’s model showed there could be between 72,400 to 17,100 total deaths this summer and autumn, with daily deaths ranging from fewer than 500 per day to 3,000 depending on how well the vaccines work. The new PHE data means these estimates will likely be too high

SAGE scientist admits modelling underestimated the power of vaccines

Modelling submitted to SAGE showed how many people could die each day with the rapid spread of the Indian variant. Warwick University researchers made their estimates (red) based on the assumption that the Indian variant is 56 per cent more transmissible, and that fully vaccinated people are given 90 per cent protection against hospital admission. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine researchers (blue) used similar figures to come to their conclusions. Dotted lines number one to four show the different dates restrictions were eased

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Imperial College London and Warwick University all underestimated how well the vaccines would protect people from being hospitalised with the Indian Covid variant. This meant their models likely overestimated the number of deaths and hospitalisations that will follow in the coming weeks and months. Public Health England's real-world analysis showed the jabs were extremely effective after two doses

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Imperial College London and Warwick University all underestimated how well the vaccines would protect people from being hospitalised with the Indian Covid variant. This meant their models likely overestimated the number of deaths and hospitalisations that will follow in the coming weeks and months. Public Health England’s real-world analysis showed the jabs were extremely effective after two doses

‘What are we waiting for?’ Boris Johnson faces growing Tory backlash over scrapping school bubbles after hols

Boris Johnson is facing increasing pressure from Tory MPs and parents today to take action on school bubbles before the summer holidays.

The Prime Minister came under fire after claiming that schools needed the ‘fire break’ of the summer holidays before they implement new rules to replace the current bubble system.

Critics say the system, which sees large numbers of children forced to stay at home if one person tests positive for Covid has been responsible for tens of thousands of children missing school.

There are also fears over the economic damage of having large numbers of parents having to take time off work to care for them.

Senior Tories told the Telegraph today that the PM’s remarks had fallen ‘on stony ground’

The former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson joined the clamour for a swifter release from the bubbles today.

Writing in the Telegraph the new peer said there needed to be a plan to reintroduce ‘play; this summer, adding: ‘Where is the respite for parents this summer after the pressure-cooker of multiple lockdowns, especially for those without outdoor space at home?

‘Why do the bubble rules still in force mean many holiday camps and play schemes are being forced to keep their doors shut, when the need for places and spaces for play is more acute than ever?

‘Where is the national summer drive for play to give back to the generation who were statistically at least risk, but had to sacrifice most?’

A reminder of the damaging effect on education came as figures showed the average pupil lost at least a week’s worth of learning in autumn term last year, despite schools being open. 

Imperial College London said there could be 203,824 deaths by next summer in a ‘worst case’ scenario, falling to 26,854 in a ‘best case’. Warwick’s said their estimate of 72,400 fatalities could fall to 17,100. And scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine warned there could be 33,200 deaths in an optimistic scenario.

Dr Tildesley said it now looked as though a ‘shallow’ third wave was more likely because of the successful roll-out, and called on ministers to stick to July 19 easings.

‘It is very much not going to be the situation we saw in October or January because of the fantastic progress with the vaccines,’ he said.

‘I’m cautiously optimistic given where we are. If you look at cases, they are going up in a really concerning way — however, we haven’t yet seen that translate into a significant rise in hospital admissions and deaths.

‘I am pretty hopeful that July 19 should proceed as planned and we won’t see a big rise in hospitalisations beyond that. We may see something of a rise. I think there will be a wave, but nothing like the same scale we saw in January.’

The modeller also joined calls for the Government to ditch its daily cases and deaths updates, saying it was ‘unhelpful’ in terms of getting the country back to normality. 

More than 44.8million Britons — 85.2 per cent of adults — have received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine and 33million — or 62.7 per cent — have got both doses.

Britain has so far dished out more than 45million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and 29million Pfizer jabs.

PHE estimates based on real-world data released yesterday found two doses of the AstraZeneca jab were more than 92 per cent effective at blocking severe illness from the Indian variant among over-65s. For the Pfizer jab, it was 98 per cent. 

Amid the successful roll-out, the Prime Minister is doubling-down on his July 19 Freedom Day as hospitalisations and deaths remain flat while cases rise.

Speaking while visiting a Nissan car factory in Sunderland yesterday, Mr Johnson said: ‘I know that people are impatient for us to open up faster and of course I want to do that.

‘But what I would say to people is we are now in the final furlong, I really believe.

‘We have to look very carefully at the data and at the moment what we are certainly seeing is a big increase in cases – 26,000 as you will have seen.

‘But that is not translating into a big increase in serious illness and death.

‘So, it looks ever clearer that we have broken, the vaccination programme, the speed of that vaccine rollout, has broken that link between infection and mortality and that is an amazing thing.

‘That gives us the scope we think on the 19th to go ahead, cautiously, irreversibly, to go ahead.’

Last month MPs on the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee grilled Dr Hopkins about using out of date data in their modelling.

SAGE scientist admits modelling underestimated the power of vaccines

SAGE scientist admits modelling underestimated the power of vaccines

Committee chair Greg Clark, a former Tory science minister, said: ‘Wouldn’t it have been possible given the relatively new real world data, to say actually, in the light of this data, we need a few more days to assess it, before we decide what is going to be the right implications of public policy?’

He added that the UK’s Covid crisis had been ‘beset by uncertainties and difficulties with modelling evidence informing government policy decisions’.

Mr Clark called for the models to be redone as soon as possible ‘so that, as the Prime Minister promised, a reappraisal can be made and a change made if it’s justified’.

Dr Hopkins said she was in ‘no doubt’ that SAGE would plug the new figures into heir models.

But Tory MP Aaron Bell suggested it was too late and that the new data may have altered ‘the case for the continuation of restrictions’.

He added: ‘The models that we seem to be relying on to justify the extension of restrictions don’t appear to be using [the PHE] numbers.

‘This is really important because the number of deaths that those numbers ultimately forecast, are for people who have had both doses, so if they have been using numbers that are now superseded, doesn’t that alter the case for the continuation of restrictions?’

‘We are voting in the House of Commons on the basis of those models. And it’s obviously very good news. These numbers are coming out so far ahead of even the optimistic scenarios that have been modelled.’ 

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