UK Covid: jabbing 12- to 15-year-olds will reduce impact of school disruption on children’s mental health – Whitty

By Andrew Sparrow
Chris Whitty
England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty holds a news conference after recommending all children aged 12-15 should be vaccinated against Covid-19. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

Early evening summary

  • Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, has said that children aged 12 to 15 in the UK should be offered a first dose of Covid vaccine because missing school is bad for their health. He and the other three UK chief medical officers have unanimously recommended a vaccine rollout for this age group, which is now set to be ordered by ministers. At a news conference Whitty insisted that there was nothing inconsistent about the CMOs recommending this now when the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation chose not to recommend vaccines for 12- to 15-year-olds earlier this month. The CMOs were applying a wider definition of potential health benefits, he said. (See 5.37pm.) He also said it would be a mistake for people to assume that the big risk from Covid is in the past. The press conference took place as the government published figures showing UK Covid hospital admissions at their highest level since the end of February. (See 6.03pm.)

That’s all from me for today. But our coronavirus coverage continues on our global live blog. It’s here.

Updated

Whitty says Covid disruption will continue into autumn and winter

At his press conference Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical officer, did not refer directly to hospital admissions. (See 6.03pm.) But he did stress that Covid problems were not going away. He said:

Anybody who believes that the big risk of Covid is now in all in the past, and it’s too late [for the new vaccine policy] to be making a difference, has not understood where we’re going to head as we go into autumn and winter, where there will continue to be challenges, there will continue to be pressure on the NHS and there will continue to be disruption to education from Covid.

Chris Whitty at his press conference.
Chris Whitty at his press conference. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

UK Covid hospital admissions at highest level for more than six months, latest figures show

Today’s update to the UK government’s Covid dashboard shows that 1,076 coronavirus patients were admitted to hospital in the UK on Tuesday 7 September. UK hospital admission figures on the dashboard are always several days old, but this is still a striking figure because it is the highest since 23 February (when there were 1,120 admissions). It is also only the fourth time since the winter that the daily figure has been in four figures.

The dashboard also shows that there have been 30,825 new cases and 61 further deaths. The total number of new cases over the past seven days is down 8.4% on the previous week, but deaths are up 25.1% week on week.

Coronavirus dashboard
Coronavirus dashboard Photograph: Gov.UK

Although Prof Wei Shen Lim, chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said today there was no conflict between what his committee said at the start of the month and what the chief medical officers are saying now, that is not obvious from the JCVI’s statement from 3 September.

The JCVI said that looking at educational issues was not part of its remit. But it also implied that a vaccine programme for this age group might be problematic. It said:

Delivery of a Covid-19 vaccine programme for children and young people is likely to be disruptive to education in the short term, particularly if school premises are used for vaccination and there is potential for a Covid-19 vaccine programme to impact on the efficiency of rollout of the influenza programme. Adverse reactions to vaccination (such as fevers) may also lead to time away from education for some individuals.

And it also sounded sceptical about the wider benefits. It said:

There is considerable uncertainty regarding the impact of vaccination in children and young people on peer-to-peer transmission and transmission in the wider (highly vaccinated) population. Estimates from modelling vary substantially, and the committee is of the view that any impact on transmission may be relatively small, given the lower effectiveness of the vaccine against infection with the Delta variant.

Updated

Whitty insists jabs being recommended to teenagers for their benefit, not for adults' benefit

Here are the main points from the press conference chaired by Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England and the UK government’s chief medical adviser.

  • Whitty said that he and the other three UK chief medical officers were recommending vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds because jabs might reduce the “very significant negative impacts” from pupils having to miss school. He said:

The disruption in education which has happened over the last period since March 2020 has been extraordinarily difficult for children and had a big impact on health, mental health and public health.

He also said that pupils living in the poorest areas had lost out most from the disruption to their education.

  • Whitty stressed that, when the chief medical officers looked at the wider health issues when making a recommendation on this, they were only looking at the wider health issues in terms of risks and benefits for 12- to 15-year-olds. He said they were not taking a decision on the basis of what might be best for society as a whole (ie, they were not balancing the risks to younger people against the benefits for older people).
  • Whitty insisted that there was no contradiction between today’s recommendation from the chief medical officers and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation statement earlier this month saying it was not recommending vaccination programme for 12- to 15-years. The JCVI said:

The committee is of the opinion that the benefits from vaccination are marginally greater than the potential known harms (tables 1 to 4) but acknowledges that there is considerable uncertainty regarding the magnitude of the potential harms. The margin of benefit, based primarily on a health perspective, is considered too small to support advice on a universal programme of vaccination of otherwise healthy 12- to 15-year-old children at this time.

Whitty said the chief medical officers had come to a different conclusion because they were able to apply a wider definition of health benefits, taking into account the health benefits of being in school. Prof Wei Shen Lim, chair of the JCVI, also said the two decisions were consistent. He said:

I want to stress that this by no means there is any conflict between the advice provided by JCVI and the advice and the decision made by the CMOs to the secretary of state.

But Lim also said “it is not for JCVI to either agree or disagree with their [the CMOs’] decision because that’s, if you will, a next step along the way”.

  • Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, said the side effects of 12- to 15 year-olds from being vaccinated were “mild”. She said:

There has been a particular interest in reports of heart inflammation, myocarditis and pericarditis. These both happen very rarely in the general population and our job is to continually review the balance of what we observe against what we expect to see.

We’ve undertaken a very thorough review, both of the UK and the international reports, there is a consistent pattern, slightly more often frequently do we see cases in young males and after the second dose.

But, overall, the conclusion of our expert advisers is these are mild cases, individuals usually recover within a short period of time with standard treatment.

Our advice remains that the benefits outweigh the risks of getting vaccinated, and this includes those aged 12 to 15.

Chris Whitty (centre), Doctor June Raine and Prof Wei Shen Lim at the press conference in Downing Street.
Chris Whitty (centre), Doctor June Raine and Prof Wei Shen Lim at the press conference in Downing Street. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

Updated

Q: What say will parents get in whether their children get vaccinated?

Whitty says the decision about who provides consent for children aged between 12 and 16 was laid down in a decision by the law lords. It cannot be over-ruled by doctors.

The law says that at one age people have to take their own decisions, at another age they cannot, and there is a phase in between when the children’s view may or may not prevail.

He says normally children and their parents take the same view.

In a small number of cases where there is a dispute there will be a debate.

Whitty says the principles of this have been understood and followed since the 1980s. He says doctors are very used to dealing with these decisions.

There is a more detailed guide to so-called “Gillick competence” here.

And that’s it; the press conference is over.

I will post a summary soon.

Q: Was it really right to wait so long?

Whitty says on some issues the UK has been ahead of others; on some it has been behind. He says he would be cautious of making generalisations.

He says there will continue to be some disruption to education from Covid. So it was right to take a decision. But they took the decision carefully.

Q: Have you modelled the wider advantages this could have?

Smith says they just focused on the advantages for 12- to 15-year-olds.

He is not aware of any modelling looking at the impact this will have on older age groups.

Whitty says some groups have looked at this, but the CMOs did not consider the wider impact when taking this decision.

Updated

Q: Will this help to prevent schools shutting?

Whitty says this will reduce disruption in schools, but not eliminate it entirely.

He says it should reduce the chances of vaccinated children getting infected by 50%, and also reduce the chances of them passing it on.

Q: Will this get in the way of the booster programme for older people?

Whitty says he does not think this will affect booster vaccines for older people. There are different vaccines involved, and different delivery programmes.

Updated

Q: Should you have acted more quickly?

Whitty says other countries have vaccinated children more quickly, with some recommending two doses.

But he says he thinks parents will be glad that British officials took their time. It was a difficult decision. It was important to look at it thoroughly.

Whitty says the CMOs are not saying to children they “must, must, must” get vaccinated. He says there are just saying there are benefits.

He says the size of the gain is lower than it is for older people. But some children do get serious problems from Covid, he says.

Dr Frank Atherton, the chief medical officer for Wales, says families should think about this carefully. But, from a health point of view, it is better to be vaccinated than not, he says.

McBride says he will be recommending vaccination for children in Northern Ireland.

Updated

Q: Do you regret the way this has been communicated?

Whitty says what he would regret most would be getting this wrong.

Some decisions are “barn door obvious”, he says. For example, an 85-year-old should get the jab.

But this decision was more complicated, he says. It was important to get it right.

He says much of medicine is about communicating quite complicated things to people.

Q: Does the JCVI feel undermined? And do all your colleagues agree with you, Prof Lim?

Lim says the JCVI is independent. It has had to make recommendations more quickly than usual during the pandemic, he says.

He says the issue of whether or not the JCVI agrees or disagrees with the CMOs is a “slightly difficult question” because the CMOs were looking at issues outside its remit. It welcomes the fact the CMOs have done this review. It is not for the JCVI to agree or disagree, he says.

He says the two bodies have been working “synergistically”.

Updated

Q: Haven’t you now left it too late? Won’t parents choose not to get their children vaccinated now?

Smith says the evidence shows that being vaccinated does have benefits.

He says the CMOs will work with experts to help explain the advantages. That is something that GPs are used to doing on a regular basis, he says.

Dr Michael McBride, the chief medical officer for Northern Ireland, says the MHRA and the JCVI both said there were benefits from vaccination.

And education brings benefits, too. Disruption to schooling has a very negative effect, he says.

He says the children who have suffered most have been the poorest ones. They are the ones who will gain most from being in education.

Updated

Q: Won’t many parents be confused by the fact the JCVI did not recommend this?

Whitty says there is no contradiction between the two recommendations.

The JCVI did not recommend a vaccine programme on the basis of their standard criteria.

But the CMOs looked at a wider range of factors, he says.

Dr Gregor Smith, the chief medical officer for Scotland, stresses that today’s recommendation is based on what is best for 12- to 15-year-olds.

(In other words, the CMOs are not saying they should get vaccinated just for the sake of their parents.)

Updated

Here is the statement issued by the JCVI on 3 September explaining why it was not recommending a vaccination programme for 12 to 15-year-olds.

Lim said this does not contradict today’s recommendation.

Prof Wei Shen Lim says one issue is the extent to which vaccination will reduce absences from school.

He says this is an issue outside the remit of the JCVI. But he says that does not mean these issues were not worth considering, and that is why the JCVI said the CMOs should look at this.

He says there is “no conflict” between the advice from the JCVI and the advice today from the CMOs.

Updated

Dr June Raine is speaking now.

She says the MHRA has considered the risk from heart inflammation as a side effect. But the benefits outweigh the risks, she says.

Whitty says considering impact of school disruption on children's mental health tipped balance in favour of vaccination programme

Whitty says the CMOs looked at issues such as education.

They received powerful evidence, he says – particularly taking into account areas of deprivation and mental health.

He says they were told disruptions to education were “extraordinarily difficult for children” and were having “a big impact on health, mental health and long term public health”.

Whitty says the CMOs thought vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds would reduce the disruption, and would therefore reduce the impact of these negative factors.

That is why they decided to recommend a vaccine offer.

He stresses that it is an offer (ie vaccination would not be compulsory).

It is now for ministers to take the final decision, he says.

Updated

Whitty says he wants to lay out the thinking clearly.

The CMOs started from the first principle of medicine: balance risks and benefits, and deciding if the benefits outweigh the risks. That applies in almost all areas of medicine, and informed the thinking behind this decision.

Whitty says the MHRA authorised the vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) on the basis of efficacy.

He says the JCVI then took on the issue, and recommended them for high-risk children above the age of 12. They also recommended a first dose for 16- and 17-year-olds.

The JCVI also considered the case for vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds. They thought the benefits slightly outweighed the risks, but they said the gains were marginal, and on that basis they would not recommend a vaccine rollout.

The issue was then passed to the chief medical officers so that they could consider the wider situation.

Whitty says the chief medical officers only looked at the risks and benefits for 12- to 15-year-olds.

And they took the data provided by the MHRA and the JCVI as read. They did not try to review it, he says.

He says the CMOs also consulted widely amongst medical bodies like the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the faculty of public health, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Updated

Prof Chris Whitty is opening the press conference. He is in Downing Street with Dr June Raine, head of the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, and Prof Wei Shen Lim, head of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

The other three CMOs are participating virtually.

UK chief medical officers hold press conference

The press conference from the UK chief medical officers about vaccinating teenagers is about to start.

Here is my colleague Peter Walker’s story about their decision.

In the comments SamSSS argues that the way the ONS figures about Covid deaths and vaccinations have been collected may be overstating the (undoubted) effectiveness of vaccines. (See 10.29am.)

This tweet, from John Roberts from the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group, may provide a fairer picture.

Here is the full text of the assessment by HM Revenue and Customs of the impact of the new health and social care levy. Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, claimed to not be aware of it when asked about it in an interview this morning. (See 9.38am.)

Updated

A report from the Office for National Statistics says 42% of workers in the poorest 20% of the workforce saw their income fall in the first year of the pandemic. For people in the richest quintile, only 31% saw their income fall.

% of workers who saw their income fall in first year of pandemic, by income level
% of workers who saw their income fall in first year of pandemic, by income level Photograph: ONS

Torsten Bell, the head of the Resolution Foundation, a thinktank specialising in issues relating to poverty and low paid, has posted a detailed thread on Twitter explaining why Thérèse Coffey was so wrong about universal credit claimants being able to make up for the lost £20 by working an extra two hours a week. (See 1.50pm.) It starts here.

Updated

UK's chief medical officers to explain vaccinating teenagers recommendation at 4pm press conference

The UK’s four chief medical officers – Prof Chris Whitty (England), Dr Gregor Smith (Scotland), Dr Frank Atherton (Wales) and Dr Michael McBride (Northern Ireland) – will hold a press conference about their decision to recommend vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds. It is at 4pm.

Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy CMO for England, Dr June Raine of the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and Prof Wei Shen Lim of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation are also due to attend.

Updated

Headteachers are receiving letters from pressure groups threatening legal action if schools take part in Covid vaccination programmes, according to Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. He said:

Many of our members have been receiving letters from various pressure groups threatening schools and colleges with legal action if they take part in any Covid vaccination programme.

This is extremely unhelpful and we would ask those involved in this correspondence to stop attempting to exert pressure on schools and colleges.

The question of whether or not to offer vaccinations to this age group has clearly been thoroughly considered and the decision on whether or not to accept this offer is a matter for families.

Updated

The National Education Union has welcomed the decision to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds, but said it should have happened sooner. This is from Mary Bousted, the union’s joint general secretary.

The decision by the chief medical officers to encourage the take up of vaccinations by 12-15 year olds will be another tool to help pupils sustain their access to education throughout the autumn and winter.

While we recognise that a decision on vaccinating children needed careful evidential judgement, it would have been better if a decision could have been made earlier during the summer holidays.

Updated

Vaccine booster programmes not appropriate now for general population, say global health experts

Coronavirus vaccine boosters are not appropriate for the general population at this stage of the pandemic, according to global experts, PA Media reports. PA says:

A review by an international group of scientists found that vaccine efficacy against severe Covid-19, even the Delta variant, is so high that top-up doses are not currently needed.

Experts looked at the available evidence from randomised controlled trials and observational studies published in peer-reviewed journals and pre-print servers.

The observational studies revealed that vaccines remained highly effective against severe disease, including that from all the main viral variants.

Averaging the results reported from the observational studies, vaccination had 95% efficacy against severe disease both from the Delta variant and from the Alpha variant.

The jabs were more than 80% effective at protecting against any infection from these variants.

Across all vaccine types and variants, vaccine efficacy is greater against severe disease than mild disease, the review suggests.

Although vaccines are less effective against asymptomatic disease or against transmission than against severe disease, even in populations with high vaccination coverage the unvaccinated minority are still the major drivers of transmission, as well as being themselves at the highest risk of serious disease, experts said.

The PA Media report is based on a study published by The Lancet. Dr Ana-Maria Henao-Restrepo, a vaccine specialist at the World Health Organization (WHO), and lead author of the study, said:

Taken as a whole, the currently available studies do not provide credible evidence of substantially declining protection against severe disease, which is the primary goal of vaccination.

The limited supply of these vaccines will save the most lives if made available to people who are at appreciable risk of serious disease and have not yet received any vaccine.

Even if some gain can ultimately be obtained from boosting, it will not outweigh the benefits of providing initial protection to the unvaccinated.

If vaccines are deployed where they would do the most good, they could hasten the end of the pandemic by inhibiting further evolution of variants.

As PA Media reports, the authors note that even if antibody levels wane in vaccinated people over time, this does not necessarily predict reductions in the efficacy of vaccines against severe disease. This could be because protection against severe disease is not only provided by antibody responses – which might be relatively short-lived for some vaccines, but is also provided by other immune responses created by the body.

The experts say that if boosters are ultimately to be used, there will be a need to identify specific circumstances where the benefits outweigh the risks.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO chief scientist and a co-author, said:

The vaccines that are currently available are safe, effective, and save lives.

Although the idea of further reducing the number of Covid-19 cases by enhancing immunity in vaccinated people is appealing, any decision to do so should be evidence-based and consider the benefits and risks for individuals and society.

These high-stakes decisions should be based on robust evidence and international scientific discussion.

Here is a link to the report.

And here is the appendix.

The report may be embarrassing for the government because ministers are keen to go ahead with a booster programme for older people, even though some scientists on the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation do not believe it is necessary. An announcement is expected very soon.

Updated

UK children aged 12 to 15 to be offered Covid jab

Children aged 12 to 15 will be given Covid vaccinations, the UK’s four chief medical officers have decided, setting aside the view of the government’s vaccine watchdog that the clinical benefits of such jabs were too minimal to justify them, my colleague Peter Walker reports.

In her speech to the TUC conference this morning, Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said that coronavirus could have been contained more easily if decent sick pay had been available, care workers had got proper PPE, and bad bosses who put staff safety at risk had been prosecuted. She said:

In the pandemic, unions have shown the value we bring. When we are in the room and our voices are heard.

But look at the price we all pay when unions are shut out and ignored. Who can doubt that we could have slowed down the virus, if everyone had had decent sick pay?

Or if care workers had got proper PPE from the start? Or if bad bosses, who put staff safety at risk, had felt the full force of the law, [had been] prosecuted and fined?

She also said that staffing and supply problems in the economy should be addressed by higher wages. She said:

Ministers may scratch their heads about how to protect supply chains and fill vacancies.

Well, here’s a novel idea: let’s make that industry deliver decent conditions, direct employment and a proper pay rise.

And let’s be clear. After decades of real wage cuts and falling living standards, no one can seriously say working people don’t deserve a pay rise.

I can tell you today just how much workers have lost out since the global financial crash.

If pay had continued to grow at its pre-crash rates the average worker would be £5,900 better off. No wonder household budgets are feeling the pinch.

The biggest threat we face is low demand. And the way to fix low demand is to pay higher wages.

Frances O’Grady.
Frances O’Grady. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Updated

Speaking to reporters this morning, Sir Keir Starmer said that if the UK chief medical officers recommended giving vaccines to teenagers, Labour would support the move. He said:

If the scientific advice is that it is safe then we’d go with that recommendation.

We’d also suggest there are other mitigations in schools, such as ventilation, which should have been put in place a long time ago.

Updated

Coffey accused of getting universal credit figures wrong

The work and pensions secretary, Thérèse Coffey, has been accused of not understanding the universal credit system after she said people who would lose £20 a week in payments next month would only have to work two hours extra to make it up, my colleague Peter Walker reports.

The story quotes this tweet explaining Coffey’s error from Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader.

No 10 dismisses Sturgeon's request for cooperation over holding second independence referendum

Here are more lines from the Downing Street lobby briefing this morning.

  • Downing Street dismissed Nicola Sturgeon’s request for Boris Johnson to let Scotland hold a second independence referendum in a “spirit of cooperation”. (See 11.08am.) Asked how Boris Johnson would respond to her request, the prime minister’s spokesman said:

We’ve said this many times before – ministers and officials across all the UK government departments are focusing on tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and supporting the economic recovery. Scottish people have been clear they want to see the UK government and the devolved Scottish government working together to defeat this pandemic, That’s our priority.

The spokesman also said that Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary, was not speaking for the government when he suggested during the summer that if polls showed 60% of Scots favouring a referendum over a sustained period of time, the government should allow one. Asked if that was the PM’s view too, the spokesman said:

No, we’ve never set a position on that. Our view is, as set out, that now would simply not be the time to be dealing with this.

  • The spokesman backed Thérèse Coffey’s suggestion that people affected by the universal credit cut should look to make up the lost £20 per week by working longer hours, or getting a better paid job. (See 9.38am.) Asked about her comments, the spokesman said:

We know people have to adjust to a change in their payment and we are supporting people to increase their incomes in a number of ways.

We are helping people learn new skills so they can progress to better jobs. Indeed our Plan for Jobs provides a number of schemes which will help people learn these new skills and progress in their careers, and we are hiring 13,500 new work coaches to that end.

  • The spokesman denied the suggestion that figures showing that officials were asked to investigate more than 300,000 cases of people suspected of ignoring travel quarantine rules in the spring showed that border rules were too lax. Asked about the BBC report, the spokesman said the government had always put in place “the necessary border measures” and that they were some of the toughest in the world. He went on:

Our managed quarantine service is effective at weeding out individuals with new variants. We sequence all those coming in from red list countries, and we believe we are striking the right balance.

  • He said the government would only introduce lockdowns again as a last resort. He said:

We are in a very different place than where we were previously when other lockdowns were introduced, thanks to the success of our vaccine programme and other things like therapeutics treatments for coronavirus.

We would only ever consider those sort of measures as a last resort and we will set out in more detail tomorrow what our approach will be should we see a significant increase in cases.

  • The spokesman would not give details of why the government has cancelled its vaccine contract with Valneva (see 11.40am), but he said the Valneva vaccine had not been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. He said:

You’ll appreciate this is an ongoing commercial issue, so I’m slightly restricted in what I can say. I appreciate that the company has issued a statement.

At this point, I’m restricted as to what I can say. Broadly, you’ll know that MHRA has not approved a Valneva vaccine.

The comments from the company won’t have any impact on our vaccine supply and did not form any part of our vaccine rollout in autumn and winter. DH [the Department of Health] might be able to say more in due course.

10 Downing Street.
10 Downing Street. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

Updated

Summary of Sturgeon's SNP conference speech

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has just finished delivering her speech to the SNP’s virtual conference. It featured a strong argument for independence, but this was only one element of what she spoke about and much of it was focused on other policy issues, particularly those where she could draw a contrast between the SNP’s approach and Boris Johnson’s.

The full text of the speech is here. And here are the main points.

  • Sturgeon said Scotland would be better off as an independent nation. She said:

The evidence that independence works.

For countries of Scotland’s size, independence works.

Our neighbours in north-west Europe are wealthier than the UK.

All of them.

They are more equal than the UK.

They have lower levels of poverty.

They have higher productivity, which drives better living standards.

All of them recovered better from the financial crash of 2008.

They have stronger public finances.

As a proportion of pre-retirement wages they all have higher pensions.

And of course they all get the governments they vote for.

In measure after measure the evidence is overwhelming and conclusive - independence works.

As briefed in advance, she urged Johnson to agree to let Scotland hold a second independence referendum in a “spirit of cooperation”. (See 11.08am.) And she said her government intended to hold a legal referendum “within this term of parliament - Covid permitting, by the end of 2023”.

  • She said the UK government’s universal credit cut next month would be “utterly devastating”. She said:

The loss of more than £1,000 a year will be utterly devastating.

It will quite literally take food out of children’s mouths ...

To even contemplate a cut like this displays a lack of basic understanding of the reality of life for those on the breadline - or maybe it’s actually a lack of care.

But to go ahead and implement this cut would expose an absence of basic humanity and moral compass.

  • She defended the Scottish government’s decision to go ahead with vaccine passports - even though the UK government has now ruled them out for England for now. The Scottish scheme was “limited”, she said. She went on:

I hope it won’t be necessary for long.

But if the simple act of showing that we’ve been vaccinated helps keep businesses open and our lives free of restrictions, then I believe it will be worth it.

  • She condemned the UK government for failing to fund a youth event as part of the Cop26 climate crisis summit and said the Scottish government would fund it instead. She explained:

One of the most important events in the run-up to any Cop summit is what is called the Conference of Youth. It is a coming together of young people from 140 countries around the world, specifically mandated by the UN to set out their asks of world leaders.

The Conference of Youth, which is now 16 years old, has always been funded by the government of the UN member state hosting Cop. Except this year.

Now I don’t know why the UK government has decided not to fund it - and it doesn’t really matter - but I do know that we cannot allow the world’s children and young people to be silenced in Glasgow on an issue so vital to their future.

So I can confirm that the Scottish government has decided to fund the Conference of Youth to meet for four days in Glasgow in the run-up to Cop.

  • She said Brexit was particularly damaging to Scotland. She said:

Brexit is a direct Tory hit on some of Scotland’s key strengths.

Our world-leading food and drink sector has been knocked for six.

Our brilliant universities have been damaged.

And she said the UK government would “use all that damage that they have inflicted [through Brexit] as an argument for yet more Westminster control”.

  • She said that Scotland planned to increase social care funding by at least £800m - or 25% - over the course of his parliament and that her government was creating a national care service. “Just like the creation of the NHS in the wake of the second world war, the national care service will be a fitting legacy from the trauma of Covid,” she said.
  • She said the UK government’s nationality and borders bill fails the “basic test of humanity” because it would “criminalise those seeking sanctuary from oppression simply for claiming asylum”.
  • She claimed the opposition parties in Scotland were not learning any lessons from their electoral defeats, and that this was bad for democracy. She said:

Oppositions hungry to be in government are more effective.

And effective opposition matters in a democracy.

But that is not what we have in Scotland.

Instead, on virtually every issue, we have opposition simply for the sake of opposition.

It’s not about achieving or improving anything, or even holding power to account.

It is just about blocking the SNP at any cost.

Nicola Sturgeon delivering her conference speech
Nicola Sturgeon delivering her conference speech. Photograph: Sky News

Updated

Downing Street has confirmed that Boris Johnson will hold a press conference tomorrow to give details of his winter plan for dealing with coronavirus. He will be joined by Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, and Prof Chris Whitty, its chief medical adviser.

I will post more from the lobby briefing soon.

Johnson suggests vaccine passports to be kept 'in reserve' for possible use later in winter

Boris Johnson has suggested his plan to introduce vaccine passports from next month has been shelved – but warned the measure will likely be held back and could be introduced later in the winter.

He appeared to confirm the U-turn made yesterday by the health secretary, Sajid Javid, who said the controversial documents meant to come into force in nightclubs and other crowded venues in England from 1 October would not be needed.

Speaking on a visit on Monday morning, the prime minister said he wanted to avoid introducing vaccine passports “if we possibly can” and that “that’s the course we’re on”.

However he declined to rule them out as definitively as Javid did, only saying the government would be “prudent” and “keep things in reserve”.

Johnson refused to be drawn on what other measures he would announce in his winter plan for tackling Covid – thought to include the possibility of bringing back mask-wearing and guidance for people to work from home where possible.

Encouraging those who have yet to be jabbed to get their first shot, he said 10% of people had still not had a coronavirus vaccine

Amid speculation of a cabinet reshuffle, Johnson also refused to rule out a major reorganisation of his top team this week.

Asked about advice from the UK’s four chief medical officers on vaccinating 12-15-year-olds, the PM urged people to “wait and see” what was announced.

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Starmer insists Labour does have alternative approach to government's to reforming and funding social care

Sir Keir Starmer has insisted that Labour does have an alternative approach to reforming social care. Speaking this morning on a visit to a cafe in Bermondsey in London, where he met staff worried by the impact of the £12bn national insurance hike announced by the government last week, he said Labour believed there were fairer ways of raising this money. He said:

Our analysis is that you could raise this money in other ways, whether that’s capital gains tax, whether that’s on properties, stocks and shares or dividends.

Talking about Labour’s approach, he told reporters: “The principles are very clear so let me set them out for you.” Labour would focus on ensuring that people needing care can stay at home if possible and on ensuring that care workers are properly paid, he said. “Care workers are underpaid and undervalued and we want to see that changed,” he said.

In a speech on Saturday to the LGA Labour leaders’ summit, Starmer gave a fuller summary of his approach. He said:

We would: transform access to care making sure every older and disabled person who needs support get it where they need it; enshrine a principle of ‘home first’ care and shift the focus to prevention and early intervention; champion independent and fulfilling lives for working-age adults with disabilities, so people have choice and control over the support they get and their views drive change in the system; deliver a new deal for care workers. We can’t deliver good social care without the workforce to match; and we would ensure partnership with families – ensuring unpaid carers get the support they need. But it’s disappointing we don’t have a government willing to show the same ambition.

Labour has not given details of how it could raise £12bn a year through taxes on wealth, property and and shares instead of a national insurance increase, but there are at last two off-the-peg options available. The TUC has said an overhaul of capital gains tax could raise up to £17bn a year. The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has also said that extending capital gains tax, or replacing council tax with a fairer property tax, could raise the money.

During his visit in Bermondsey, Starmer said Boris Johnson had “gone straight for hammering working people” when drawing up his plans. Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, who was accompanying Starmer, was a bit blunter. She said:

The national insurance tax increase and then the care cap will benefit the wealthiest most ... But in my constituency, people are going to be screwed over twice.

Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner visiting Bermondsey this morning to discuss the health and social care levy with workers.
Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner visiting Bermondsey this morning to discuss the health and social care levy with workers. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

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Valneva says government has ended its contract to supply Covid vaccine

More information is being sought from the UK government after a drugs firm said its contract to supply coronavirus vaccines had been terminated, PA Media reports. PA says:

The French pharmaceutical company Valneva said the government had alleged it was “in breach of its obligations” under the deal to supply the vaccine, which it is currently developing at its facility in Livingston, West Lothian.

Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf said the move would be a “blow” for the site – visited by Boris Johnson back in February.

Yousaf stated: “When it comes to their supposed alleged failure to meet their contract obligations, we obviously are looking for more information from the UK government and would expect that shortly.”

The UK had ordered 100 million doses of the Valneva vaccine, with the amount to be supplied upped by 40 million back in February.

However the pharmaceutical firm said it had “received a termination notice from the UK government (HMG) in relation to the supply agreement for its Covid-19 vaccine candidate, VLA2001”.

It stated: “The contract provides HMG with the right to terminate. HMG has alleged that the company is in breach of its obligations under the supply agreement, but the company strenuously denies this.”

Yousaf said even without the Valneva vaccines there would be enough supplies for a potential booster campaign.

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Sturgeon urges Johnson to agree second independence referendum in 'spirit of cooperation'

In her speech to the SNP’s virtual conference later this morning Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, will urge the UK government to accept Scotland’s right to hold another independence referendum, urging Boris Johnson to act in a “spirit of cooperation”. In an extract from the speech released in advance this morning, she says:

My approach to government and to politics will be, as far as possible, cooperation not confrontation.

The experience of the pandemic and the challenges we face as a result reinforces my view that this is the right approach.

So it is in that spirit of cooperation that I hope the Scottish and UK governments can reach agreement – as we did in 2014 – to allow the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland to be heard and respected.

But, this much is clear. Democracy must – and will – prevail.

The United Kingdom is, after all, a voluntary union of nations. Until recently no-one seriously challenged the right of the people in Scotland to choose whether or not they wished to become independent.

Frankly it is not up to a Westminster government, which has just six MPs in Scotland, to decide our future without the consent of the people who live here.

As an independent country, cooperation between Scotland and our friends across the rest of the UK will continue, but it will be on a better basis: Scotland will be an equal partner.

Sturgeon’s appeal to the PM is worded in such a way as to suggest that her optimism has got the better of her judgment. Johnson has generally been careful not to rule out ever allowing a second independence referendum (because an unequivocal “no” polls badly in Scotland). But he has made it clear he has no interest in allowing one if he can avoid it, sometimes arguing that the 2014 poll was a once-in-a-generation event and sometimes arguing that the Covid crisis means holding one soon would be irresponsible.

(Sturgeon, of course, knows this as well as anyone. Her language is intended to expose Johnson as unreasonable.)

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Coffey branded 'heartless' by Labour after saying she is happy with universal credit cut

In her interview with Sky News this morning, Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, confirmed that she was happy with the government’s plan to cut universal credit by £20 from the end of this month (by removing the temporary Covid uplift).

Given that this is agreed cabinet policy, and that the cut has been defended by the prime minister and by the chancellor, she would have been taking a career risk if she had said anything else. But Labour MPs have condemned her comment.

This is from Wes Streeting, the shadow child poverty secretary.

And this is from Nadia Whittome.

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Covid involved in 37.4% of deaths in unvaccinated people in first six months of 2021 – but just 0.8% of deaths in fully vaccinated people

The Office for National Statistics has published a report on Covid deaths in England by vaccine status between 2 January and 2 July this year. Here are the main points.

  • Of the 51,281 Covid deaths in this period, just 640 occurred in people who had been double-vaccinated – and just 256 occurred in people who had been double-vaccinated and who first tested positive at least 14 days after their second dose. (Some of the 640 will have been infected before they were fully vaccinated.)
  • During this period, just 0.8% of deaths of people fully vaccinated for more than 21 days involved Covid - compared with 37.4% of deaths of unvaccinated people. (Vaccines are not regarded as fully effective until about two or three weeks after they have been administered, which is why 21 days is used as a cut-off in the statistics.)
Deaths by Covid vaccination status
Deaths by Covid vaccination status Photograph: ONS
  • The 256 people who first tested positive more than 14 days after their second vaccination and who went on to die – so-called “breakthrough deaths” – were older, more likely to be male, and more likely to be immunocompromised than other people dying from Covid.
Characteristics of fully vaccinated people dying from Covid, compared to other Covid and non-Covid deaths
Characteristics of fully vaccinated people dying from Covid, compared to other Covid and non-Covid deaths Photograph: ONS

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Coffey says people losing £20 per week from UC cut could make up the money by working longer hours

Here are some more lines from Thérèse Coffey’s morning interview round.

  • Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, said universal credit claimants who will lose £20 per week from next month when the Covid uplift is removed could make up the money by working extra hours. She told BBC Breakfast:

I’m conscious that £20 a week is about two hours’ extra work every week – we will be seeing what we can do to help people perhaps secure those extra hours, but ideally also to make sure they’re also in a place to get better-paid jobs as well.

She also said the government’s infrastructure spending might enable these people to get better paid jobs.

That’s where elements of the £650bn in infrastructure projects, supporting 425,000 jobs, [are relevant]. We can want to try and help people get on into those better-paid jobs, often in construction but other elements as well that go alongside these big major projects.

  • She claimed to be unaware of a government assessment by HM Revenue and Customs saying the proposed health and social care levy (the £12bn national insurance hike) could break up families. Asked about the analysis, which was reported in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday, she told LBC:

I’m not sure where that comes in on your questioning ... I have not seen that report.

When asked why her team had not told her about a report that featured prominently in yesterday’s papers, she replied:

Well, I expect it’s an unquoted source and we don’t look into elements like that.

Here is an extract from the story, by the Sunday Telegraph’s Edward Malnick.

Boris Johnson’s National Insurance increase could result in the breakdown of families and deter companies from hiring new staff and increasing wages, according to the government’s own analysis.

A bombshell impact assessment produced by HM Revenue and Customs for the Treasury warned that one effect of the 1.25 percentage point tax increase “may be an impact on family formation, stability or breakdown as individuals, who are currently just about managing financially, will see their disposable income reduce” ...

The analysis states that the new health and social care levy “is anticipated to have a significant macroeconomic impact” with consequences “for earnings, inflation and company profits”. “Behavioural effects” of the increase, which will take effect in April, “are likely to be large”, the analysis states, “and these will include decisions around whether to incorporate or not, and business decisions around wage bills and recruitment” ...

Under a section headed “Impact on business”, the document states: “This measure is expected to have a significant impact on over 1.6 million employers who will be required to introduce this change.

“One-off costs will include familiarisation with the change and could also include updating software or systems to reflect the change. A further one-off cost could include updating employee payroll records to reflect this change. This measure will also impact payroll software providers who will have one-off cost of familiarisation and will also be required to update software to reflect this change, the cost of which may be passed onto customers.”

  • Coffey said that, if Covid cases got worse over the winter, people could be advised to resume working from home.

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Vaccine passports 'haven't been ruled out forever', cabinet minister says

Good morning. Dominic Cummings calls Boris Johnson the “shopping trolley” because he says the prime minister veers all over the place when making policy – and the evolution of the government’s policy on vaccine passports for England is a good example of where Cummings has got a point.

Originally the government ruled out the idea. Then, as the final lockdown restrictions were lifted in July, Johnson made the surprise announcement that from the end of September, people going to nightclubs would need to show proof of their vaccine status. Only last week, Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said that remained the plan.

Yesterday Sajid Javid, the health secretary, told Sky News that the government was right to consider the idea. But an hour later he told the BBC that the government was not going ahead with vaccine passports.

However, as my colleague Aubrey Allegretti reports, Tory MPs who hate the idea of vaccine passports fear the idea has not been killed off for good. Javid also said yesterday that they would remain an option for the future and, in interviews this morning, Thérése Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, said they were not ruled out forever. She told BBC Breakfast:

As Sajid Javid set out yesterday, although the formal decision is still to be made, but having reflected and looked at the details of the proposal that it’s not deemed necessary at this moment in time.

But they haven’t been ruled out forever. It’s reflecting the fact that a lot of young people have come forward and got their vaccinations over the summer.

With Johnson due to announce his winter plan for Covid tomorrow, there may be more about government coronavirus plans coming out today. We also have two potentially interesting reports on coronavirus coming from the ONS.

With the TUC and SNP conferences both taking place, there is plenty of non-Covid politics around today, too. Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: The ONS publishes figures on Covid deaths by vaccination status. It is also publishing a report on the impact of coronavirus on household finances.

10am: The TUC conference resumes. Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, is speaking at 11am.

11.30am: Downing Street holds its daily lobby briefing.

11.50am: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, gives a speech wrapping up the SNP’s online conference. Earlier, at 10.30am, Shona Robison, the housing and local government secretary, speaks.

Lunchtime: Boris Johnson is expected to record a short TV interview on a trip in the Midlands.

2.30pm: Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

For further Covid coverage, do read our global coronavirus live blog.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com

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