COVID Update, 27th March

COVID update March 27th, 2021:

As predicted the vaccination roll-out has been continuing at a ‘gangbusters’ rate ahead of the supply gap likely in the first half of April. The number of first doses yesterday increased by a further 324,942 to a total of 29,316,130 across the UK and second doses accelerated rapidly with a further 234,382 and has just burst through 3m.

Rollout should continue at a similar rate ahead of the Easter weekend but the supply problem primarily from India will mean a big slowdown in the first 2 weeks of April but there will be sufficient vaccine to give everyone scheduled a second dose within the 12 week cap as well as continuing with the 9 priority cohorts which should all be completed by April 15th. Only at that stage will the NHS look at continuing the roll-out to the under 50 cohorts. It looks as though the EU has rowed back from putting an all-out blockade on releasing vaccines legitimately purchased by non-EU countries added to which the 3rd approved vaccine Moderna will be available to start use in the UK later in April too.

As indicated previously there are no plans to prioritise other groups of people by profession and cohorts 10-12 will be simply based on age for those in their Forties, Thirties and then 18-29. It is looking increasingly like children will be able to obtain a jab depending on the results of trials currently underway and that will start with secondary school age young people. There is one exception. It has now been decided that people living with patients who have been prioritised because they are on strong doses of immune-suppressant drugs will now be added to Cohort 6 and can apply for a jab straight away as well.

It is also looking increasingly likely that as from this Autumn older people will be offered a further booster vaccination likely to be based on Novavax, another of the 8 types of vaccine bought by the NHS. This vaccine is proving particularly effective in trials and can also be adapted easily to respond to any new strains of the virus that come along. It may be offered combined with the regular flu vaccine to make it even easier to administer.

It has now been calculated that the decision to administer first doses to as many people as a priority and delay the second dose to within 12 weeks has been responsible for saving the lives of over 6,000 people. The first dose provides the major protection when it fully kicks in after 2-3 weeks with the second booster jab likely to add further protection of just 3-5% in the case of both the current vaccines in use. Good call by the JCVI.


Worthing Hospital

Given that the number of COVID patients at local hospitals has fallen so far the Hospital Trust has decided to step down its ‘Gold Group’ which provides regular reports and statistics on COVID levels. That is very good news but it means I no longer will have detailed figures. However, I can tell you that there are currently just 11 COVID patients in St Richard’s and 4 in Worthing Hospital. None of them are in ITU and there have very encouragingly been no further deaths in the last week.

Over 96% of staff at the Western Sussex Hospitals Trust have now been vaccinated and they are working their way through second vaccinations at the moment. Over 86% of BAME staff have been vaccinated which is apparently the highest level of any acute hospital trust in England.

West Sussex MPs had a very helpful briefing from Trust Chief Executive Dame Marianne Griffiths yesterday and we particularly asked about plans for catching up with elective operations where there is still a very large backlog in common with the rest of the NHS. They have prioritised urgent cancer patients and are now seeing 94.1% within the 2-week target which is ahead of the 93% target level. The Trust has also procured £600,000 for additional endoscopy equipment and is utilising theatre capacity as much as possible for 6 days a week. Some of the longest waits remain for urology and digestive disease patients and ophthalmology but again they are looking at ways of bringing these down as soon as possible.

Despite all the pressures the Trust is still operating within budget and has received a very strong bill of health ahead of the merger with Brighton which has now been given the green light. As from April the 1st it will be known as the University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust or University Hospitals Sussex for short and @UHSussex for even shorter. Well done and our thanks to Marianne and all her expanded team.


Local Picture

It is anticipated that by Monday over 1m people across Sussex will have received their first dose. Over 120,000 jabs were given across Sussex this week which is a record. At the beginning of the week there were still some 250,000 eligible Sussex residents who had not been vaccinated. As a result, all mass vaccination centres have continued to focus on the 9 priority cohorts and rolling out second doses and have been instructed not to start on those under 50 in line with national NHS guidance. Subsequently the outstanding number has fallen to 160,000 and a further 40,000 people are booked in this week which means the original quarter of a million will have halved but still leaves around 120,000 people across Sussex.

If you are one of those 120,000 you are strongly recommended to book an appointment at Brighton or one of the other mass vaccination centres where slots are available up to March 31st. After that you will not be able to book a slot there in April until supplies have picked up again and the mass vaccination centres will only be dealing with second doses. You can of course continue to have your jab at your local GP hub throughout April and preferably before the April 15th target deadline.

  • To speed things up even further three Worthing vaccination hubs will be operating a drop-in service over this weekend. If you are in the 9 priority cohorts and a patient of Limetree and Barn you can just turn up at the Durrington Health Centre from 9am to 3pm on Saturday.
  • If you are a patient of Cornerways, Selden Medical Centre, Strand Medical Group and Worthing Medical Group in the 9 priority cohorts you can turn up at the Strand Medical Centre from 9am – 3pm on Saturday March 27th and Sunday 28th.
  • If you are registered at Broadwater Medical Centre, St Lawrence Surgery or Victoria Road Surgery you will be contacted by the local team to arrange an appointment, so please do not attend these clinics.

The latest vaccination rates in West Sussex are as follows:

Cohort 1               98%

Cohort2                93%

Cohort 3               95%

Cohort 4               93%

Cohort 5               89%

Cohort 6               81%

Cohort 7               83.5%

Cohort 8               76%

Cohort 9               68%

In every case we are ahead of the overall rates for the whole of Sussex and in most cohorts well above average nationally. 1 in 3 people aged over 80 across Sussex have now completed their second dose too.

  • Because of uncertainties over supply in April and the fact that Sussex was allocated around 80% of what the vaccination hubs wanted there has had to be some shifting of dates. The Lancing hub for example was planning to be vaccinating mostly over Easter weekend. Instead it will now be operating on Monday 29th, Thursday April 1st, Good Friday, Easter Saturday, and then again from April 7th through to the 11th. You will need to receive an invitation from your surgery to book an appointment though.
  • The CCG is now able to offer free transport to vaccination centres for people who really do have problems with travel. The booking service is available between 10am-1pm and 2pm-5pm Monday to Friday by ringing 01444 275008.
  • Again, I am glad to see that the spike in the COVID infection rates in Worthing have ‘washed out’ of the system. Against an England average rate of 57 people per 100,000 the latest figure for Adur is just 15.6 and Worthing 31.7 and both falling. Last week the corresponding rates were 57.9 for England, 57.9 for Worthing and 29.5 for Adur. Nationally the infection rates have only fallen slightly again reflecting the very high level of testing now going on. But importantly the hospital admission rate is down by 21.9% week on week and the death rate is down by 28.5% with a rolling daily average of 70, consistently now in double figures mercifully.

Lockdown restrictions start to ease from Monday and you will be able to meet up with a limited amount of friends and family outdoors over Easter but don’t overdo it and please still observe social distancing precautions as we do not want these figures to go into reverse.

Stay safe.