Last weekend the government reported that all those over 70, those clinically at serious risk and key NHS and social care workers had been offered one of the vaccines. But not everyone has taken up the offer.
Locally in the last week a significant number from the top priority groups, who had been “missed” for various reasons, were called into the Rye Medical Centre for vaccination. This was a planned “community based service” and the vaccination process has now reverted to that reported previously – national letters with options, and telephone calls by GP surgeries to go to Etchingham. Those who are housebound and known to surgeries will be contacted about separate arrangements.
At a recent meeting with the Sussex clinical commissioning group (CCG) there was discussion about a range of issues including the spread of new variants of the virus and the handling of the next two large groups (5 and 6 in the poster, left) for vaccinations.
In tandem with these next groups, from March, it is expected that second vaccinations for groups 1 to 4 are expected to start. National NHS records are available in all vaccination locations and will indicate the type of vaccine due and when. This week, from some conversations with those who have been given both their dates, it appears that the separation between the first and second appointments will be around 12 weeks.
Vaccinations closer to Rye
In contemplating future vaccination arrangements, including the possibility of any vaccinations in the autumn, it is noted that new centres have just opened in other parts of Sussex and Kent. For Rye and district, some say that travel to Etchingham is just not an issue for them, but it is for many – particularly those who are vulnerable or without transport.
As a result and, despite the choice of new alternative locations on offer, we continue to press for any type of vaccination facility closer to Rye, either mobile, drive through (like Whitstable) or a fixed community facility. We have formally offered to help facilitate one, for which there are several obvious locations, some identified in recent comments in Rye News.
Numbers for Etchingham are not in the public domain, but we calculate from the demographics in ”rural Rother” that the vaccination list from the seven participating surgeries must be around 30,000. On the basis of around 500 vaccinations completed per day, in excess of 10,000 have been vaccinated therefore. Of those, it is estimated that around half have travelled from Rye and the immediate area.
Deducting the relatively small numbers transported in community or public transport – Rye & District Community Transport has done a great job for some of these people – the majority (well over 90%) have made the journey in small groups of one to three people in private vehicles.
This is a huge number of vehicle journeys, which on present planning will have to be repeated for the second jab and perhaps, if there is to be a booster jab or revaccination, potentially again in the autumn. A funded strategic NHS transport plan is promised but the details have not yet been seen.
The national NHS letter
The CCG acknowledges that the national NHS calling letter could be clearer. Although there is now a choice of vaccination locations, as the letters duplicate the calls from GP surgeries to go to Etchingham, some patients have been left rather perplexed.
If anyone, who receives the letter and chooses via telephone or website to go to one of the locations on offer, such as in New Romney or Ore, their records will be updated to reflect that. Importantly though those who disregard the letter, and wait for a call from their GP surgery to travel to Etchingham, will get their vaccination there. But some have reported that they have made the alternative choices offered via links in the letter and have found the experience more convenient.
Vaccination for home carers (often younger relatives) and care workers is proving problematic. It is reported that up to one third of social care staff and unknown numbers of younger carers have yet to be vaccinated. The CCG will announce a Sussex wide plan for this shortly.
New shielding arrangements
Following new research on the first wave infections it has been found that people with a particular combination of serious health conditions, in all about 1.7 million people, are being advised to join 2.3 million others already shielding. About 820,000 younger patients in this category will be moved up the priority list for a vaccination to the 6th group if, of course, they have not already been vaccinated in group 4. NHS letters are being sent out to alert people in this category with advice as below:
“Even if you have had both doses of the vaccine, you should continue to follow this shielding guidance as we continue to assess the impact of vaccination among all groups. The people you live with should continue to follow the public health rules and guidance as long as they are in place, regardless of whether you or they have received the vaccine. We will continue to update you as the situation changes and, once again, we thank you for your efforts to keep yourself and others safe.”
The government reports that if the vaccination programme remains on track, all the over 50s will have had the first vaccination by May – but expect lots of debate about priorities for those younger than 50. As more are vaccinated, the discussion about the relaxation of lockdown measures can be expected to heat up, with much speculation about summer holidays, tourism, hospitality, vaccination passports, quarantine measures and of course schooling and exams.
Meanwhile, current government advice continues to be “stay at home and apply social distancing rules whether you have had the vaccine or not”.
The lockdown rules apply until March 8, but the prime minister has promised to set out a plan for the exit from this on Monday, February 22 once evidence of the impact of the vaccinations and lockdown has been studied. Some scientists are already predicting that a return to something resembling normality could still be months away. Nobody yet knows what the “new normal” will look like.
The prime minister, in celebrating the vaccine rollout, has warned that now was not the time to “relax”. He reminded us that there are more people in hospital than at the peak of the first wave, and any steps taken to ease the lockdown should be “cautious but irreversible”.
Image Credits: David Worwood , Crown copyright 2020 .