COVID Update, 27th February

𝐂𝐎𝐕𝐈𝐃 𝐮𝐩𝐝𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝟐7𝐭𝐡 𝐅𝐞𝐛𝐫𝐮𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟏:

The vaccination rollout slowed slightly this week as anticipated due to supply constraints but by the end of the weekend it is likely that around 20m people will have received their first jab and over 700,000 now are on to their second booster vaccination. The supply of vaccine is likely to ramp up considerably from March 15th as more will be needed to look after the increasing numbers who will be due their 2nd jab. To recap, everyone should receive the same brand of vaccination at the same location as their first. Those who have been to the mass vaccination centres have already been allocated a date, everyone else will be contacted by their GP surgery hub or wherever else they received their jab, in due course. No need to call them - they will call you.

The NHS has now released vaccination rates broken down at constituency level and I am pleased to say that at 31.5% of the whole population now having received their first vaccination, East Worthing & Shoreham is in the top quartile. That represents 31,550 out of the total constituency population of 100,058 and when you take out those under 18 who are not due to be vaccinated at this stage that is around 40% of all adults. In West Worthing the figure is higher at 37.3% but that is a reflection of an older population who fall into the top 7 cohorts who have so far been invited to have a vaccination.

I updated my Facebook posts yesterday as there was some confusion over people in Cohort 7 (60-64-year olds) being able to book an appointment at the Brighton Centre without having received their letter from the NHS centrally. The policy actually changed this week given the speed at which the mass vaccination centres have been working through Cohort 5 which had left unused slots at places like Brighton. As long as you are in Cohort 7 (60-64) and above you can book direct at the mass vaccination centres such as Brighton before you have received your letter. Letters are going out in 800,000 batches from the NHS nationally so some people will get their letter earlier than others, but the appointments are effectively opened up to the whole cohort from the start. The same will apply when they start on Cohort 8 for the 55-59-year olds soon.

New research from Scotland this week also vindicated the decision to delay second jabs so that more people could received the first dose sooner. Data from a real-life cohort of those who have been vaccinated show that the AstraZeneca vaccine for example gives at least 75% protection against hospitalisation or death from just one dose and is not materially diminished by waiting up to 12 weeks.

The Government has now decided that there will be no change in the priorities of those in the cohorts other than the additional group of people with learning disabilities identified this week. Whilst I have sympathy with those asking for groups such as teachers and police officers to be vaccinated sooner, the evidence so far still shows that the biggest determinant of risk is age and serious underlying conditions. There would also be arguments about whether it is just teachers, or should it include teaching assistants, ‘dinner ladies’ and other school staff which would add up to more than 1m people and mean 1m other older people would be delayed.

The biggest practical point though is that identifying cohorts essentially by age is the easiest and quickest way to get people in to be vaccinated. GPs and the NHS do not routinely keep records of people’s professions and this would cause a lot of additional admin which would inevitably slow the rollout process.

In the event, at the current rate the top 9 priority groups are highly likely to have received their first vaccination before the April 15th target date. The Government has announced that the remaining 21m adults will be prioritised on the basis of 40-49-year-old cohort, 30-39-year-old cohort, 18-29-year-old cohort. There are roughly 7m people in each cohort, and we are currently vaccinating about 3.5m people a week though of course there will be an increasing number of second vaccinations to perform at the same time. But you can see we are well on schedule.


Worthing Hospital

As well as briefings from the Sussex CCG and the Vaccine Minister yesterday local MPs also had a briefing with Dame Marianne Griffiths, the brilliant Chief Executive of the Western Sussex Hospitals Trust (due to merge with Brighton University Hospitals from April 1st.)

They have now vaccinated over 94% of their hospital staff and are starting on second doses next week. That is where they are concentrating their vaccination capacity having helped out with care homes and outpatients previously. It is now clear that the number of COVID patients in Worthing and St Richards peaked on January 19th at around 260 which was more than double the numbers at the peak of the first wave in April last year underlining just what pressure our hospitals were under.

As at yesterday there were 28 COVID patients in Worthing including 9 in ITU down from 32 and 10 respectively last week. At St Richard’s the fall is greater but from a higher level currently standing at a total of 36 including just 4 in ITU down from 56 and 5 last week. There have been 4 more deaths at Worthing and 7 at St Richard’s.

At the Royal Sussex County there are now 47 COVID patients including 18 in ITU down from 52 and 20 respectively last week with a further 5 deaths.

As the number of COVID patients reduces levels of routine treatments and elective surgery are improving. Staff absences have also improved greatly and obviously impact on the availability of care. At the peak in January some 9% of hospital staff locally were absent due to COVID whilst overall more than half the staff have so far experienced COVID related absences either due to them directly or family members.

The good news is that the level of emergency admissions in this wave is down to about 75% of normal levels whilst in the first wave they had halved. The number of elective admissions is back up to 81% of normal levels whilst there remains a long waiting list to catch-up with though. With the help of the independent sector cancer treatments have been prioritised though there is still considerable pressure on availability of endoscopies.

I asked about the health and morale of the staff who have worked up a lot of additional hours and in many cases missed holidays. I was pleased to hear that staff are now entitled to carry over up to 20 days of annual leave for the next 2 years and can also take pay in lieu if they would prefer. The Hospitals have done a lot to look after the health and wellbeing of their staff which is even more important given the pressure they have been under. All the West Sussex MPs have written to the Hospital Trust thanking staff for their incredible hard work and dedication.

It is also really encouraging to hear that a new nursing school site has been set up in Chichester and applications to join are up 150% on normal.


Vaccinations – Local picture

 ·         As at Friday 27th 565,350 people had been vaccinated across Sussex. In West Sussex the rates are now over 95% for those above 75 and 94% for those aged 70-74 so only a few stragglers or ‘decliners’ there. For those currently being vaccinated in Cohort 5 between 65-69 the coverage is 75.6%.  85.2% of the clinically vulnerable have been vaccinated.

·         The local surgeries continue to work through the large and complex Cohort 6 of people with high risk conditions and recognised carers, to which now has been added a further group of people with learning disabilities. It is estimated that they are about 45% through that Cohort so far.

·         Genuine carers looking after someone who has had a priority vaccination will automatically be given priority under Cohort 6 if they are registered as carers with the NHS or with the DWP because they receive Carer’s Allowance. The NHS and local councils are also working with carer charities and carer associations across West Sussex to identify other carers. If you think you come into this category you should contact Adur or Worthing councils.

·         Because of a hiatus between Cohort 5 and 7 letters going out and the fact that many people are still choosing to wait for a call from their local surgery rather than go to the mass vaccination centres, The Brighton Centre was only doing around 500 jabs a day at the beginning of this week whilst it is geared up to do 1500. That has now jumped back up to 1000 and from March 15th it will scale up to 3000 jabs a day. Crawley and the new mass vaccination centre in Chichester are also offering 1000 jabs a day.

·         Anyone in Cohort 7 (aged 60-64) and above can now book direct into one of the mass vaccination centres such as Brighton, Chichester and Crawley whether you have received your central NHS letter or not yet. In many cases you can get a jab within 24 hours, so it is quicker and takes pressure off the GP centres if you are able to travel. Remember there is also free parking at Brighton and Chichester. If you need to stay local you will be called by your local GP surgery hub at some stage.

·         The CCG is currently reviewing all the sites they use across Sussex as some may need to change if they have used a school which may be going back on March 8th for example. That is unlikely to impact on any of the sites being used for Adur and Worthing patients which are working well and are likely to remain unchanged for the foreseeable.

·         At the current pace it will not be long before the 2.4m people in Cohort 8 (55-59 year olds) including me, should receive their letters from the NHS centrally as the Cohort 7 only amounts to 1.8m people. Again, it is likely we will be encouraged to go to the mass vaccination centres and you can start booking without receiving your letter once the ‘starting gates’ are open. I will post more information on my social media as soon as this happens.

Keep safe everyone – we really are getting there