COVID Update, 8th May

COVID update 8th May 2021:

As the vaccination programme has progressed so far, I have reduced the frequency of these updates from weekly to fortnightly and certainly the number of queries I am still getting has subsided substantially. There are a number of points to make this week as the vaccination roll-out is likely to face a few challenges about the way it is delivered as we move beyond the priority 9 cohorts.

Very encouragingly the infection rates and fatalities continue to reduce, and most hospitals now do not have any COVID patients. The small fluctuations we have seen in infection rates in Adur and Worthing are usually caused by a small number of contained flare-ups which look worse than they actually are when converted into percentage terms. We continue to be below the national average locally.

Nationally, there were 2047 cases reported yesterday which is a decrease of 5.2% on the week. The number of hospital cases is down by 24.6% to 1152 patients and the number of fatalities yesterday was 5 bringing the weekly rolling average down by 26.2% The link between catching the virus and becoming ill enough to need to go into hospital and possibly dying has certainly been broken by the vaccination rollout with very few deaths reported for those who have been vaccinated.

The vaccination is now available to all aged 40 and above although there are not so many slots available to book because of supply constraints still. Within the first hour of the 40+ cohort opening up over 100,000 bookings were made online for the mass vaccination centres showing how popular the jabs are amongst younger people too. The Joint Vaccination Committee also took the decision to recommend that those under 40 who have yet to receive a jab could express a preference for the Pfizer or Moderna jab over the AstraZeneca version. That does not reflect any heightened risk from the AZ version just that the risk level of COVID having a serious impact on most younger people is greatly less and therefore the risk calculation alters slightly. There is still no medical evidence linking AZ to any serious chance of clotting and the vast majority of people continue to turn up for their second dose of AZ, as I will be doing soon, or have it as a first dose.

Across the UK over two-thirds of adults (35.1m) have now had a first dose with almost a third (17.2m) having completed both doses. Well over 96% of people have now received their second does within 12 weeks of their first.

Previously guidance was issued stating that it was safe for pregnancy women to take the vaccine in terms of safety for both mum and baby. That was based on a study of over 90,000 pregnancy women in the US which showed no risk level higher than the general population. The vaccination experts are now looking at whether pregnant women should actually be made a priority to receive the vaccine following evidence showing that women who have had COVID and give birth are much more likely to give birth prematurely posing potential problems for their babies. The US and Republic of Ireland have therefore added pregnant women to their priority cohorts for early vaccination and that is being considered in the UK.

As I have mentioned previously the Government is likely to roll-out a booster vaccination scheme from the Autumn, probably targeting the initial 9 priority cohorts of those above 50. They are currently looking at ways of rolling this out at the same time as the Winter Flu jabs to make things as streamlined as possible.

Local picture

Whilst the local GP hubs continue to invite in stragglers from the 9 priority cohorts and those in their 40’s, around 80% of their jabs are second vaccinations. In Sussex most of the slots at the mass vaccination centres have been taken for the next 10 days or so and hopefully this will be addressed by a delivery of Moderna vaccine to Brighton from May 17th. It is not clear what will be available for Chichester and Crawley yet but it likely that we will be getting more of the Pfizer version over AZ in the near future. The Brighton Centre is split offering 2 types of vaccine to make sure that second doses match the first version that everyone had.

I have spoken to some GP vaccination hubs who are looking at whether they will cease offering first dose vaccinations to their patients and concentrate on completing second jabs. This is in order to start returning to normal with looking after a backlog of patients and I know many people have been frustrated at how difficult it can be to get a face to face appointment because staff or facilities are tied up giving jabs. This is a difficult equation to balance and in order to look after non-COVID patients it may be necessary to reduce the availability of the GP led local vaccination centres which have worked so well.

The advice is therefore to opt for the mass vaccination centres wherever you can even though it means travelling a little further. Given that first doses are now going primarily to more mobile younger people that should be less of a problem. Keep checking for available slots as given the uncertainty of supply timings the situation will change literally daily.

Having discussed this with the Sussex CCG who are responsible for overseeing the vaccination roll-out across the whole of Sussex they are currently surveying all 178 GP practices across Sussex to see if and when they will be withdrawing from offering jabs to new people. I know of at least one surgery which is still to decide how to proceed and I will keep constituents posted on likely changes. The CCG has indicated that they may be able to replace them with more pharmacies offering jabs or pop-up vaccination centres, particular at weekends, as is currently working well around Chichester. A further complication here is of course that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are far more delicate and have to be kept in very low storage which makes it less suitable for temporary locations.

The bottom line of all of this is that the vaccination roll-out may be a little less smooth in coming weeks and months and the more flexible people can be in terms of travelling, the more helpful that will be to make the system work. We remain in the top handful of countries globally for the success of the vaccination rollout so far and countries such as the UAE which are ahead of us on numbers are well behind us on infection control. This is largely because they have been using the Chinese vaccine which turns out to be much less effective than Pfizer or AZ. The Government and NHS remain confident however that we remain on track to have vaccinated everyone with at least a first dose by the end of July which means that the route out of lockdown can go ahead, and as announced this week there will be opportunities for some people at least to get abroad on holiday.

Failing that sunny Worthing remains a much better alternative destination!