The Health Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.
Last weekend, the Government hit its target of offering the Covid-19 vaccine to the top four priority groups: all elderly care home residents and their carers; everyone over 70; all frontline health and social care workers; and everyone with a condition that makes them extremely vulnerable to the virus. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called the news an ‘unprecedented national achievement,’ highlighting that 90% of over 70s took up their offer for a vaccine.
Reaching the target has meant that the vaccines delivery programme entered a new phase this week, with the roll out extended to people aged 65 to 69 and those who are clinically vulnerable against Covid-19.
NHS England and Improvement has indicated that GP led vaccination sites will focus initially on the clinically vulnerable to ensure continuity of care. NHS Confederation’s Primary Care Network Director Ruth Rankine has welcomed this approach, she said: ‘Working as part of an integrated system, primary care is best placed to offer vaccinations to clinically extremely vulnerable people. Primary care services are at the heart of communities and have already found ways to improve access through targeted public information and local engagement.’
Over the weekend, the Government published a Vaccination Uptake Plan to further enforce the roll of community- led engagement in vaccine distribution. The plan aims to make the vaccine more accessible including to ethnic minorities and those with disabilities. It has been welcomed by NHS Providers, which has noticed that vaccine uptake is lower in certain groups, including a reluctance among BAME NHS staff. Chief executive Chris Hopson said that NHS Trust leaders will welcome strengthened collaboration between the Government, charities and health organisations to build upon ‘successful local initiatives and innovations, so that disparities can be eliminated.’
A further 1.7m people are expected to be added to the shielding list and will prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine. It follows a new model that was developed to consider extra factors including, ethnicity, deprivation and weight. Runnymede Trust called the news a ‘watershed movement, signally a recognition that class and race impacts your vulnerability to Covid-19’.
According to latest figures from the REACT-1 community surveillance study, Covid-19 infections have fallen by more than two-thirds since the start of February. Although infection levels remain high, these latest findings indicate that lockdown restrictions have had an impact on reducing infections across the country. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘These findings show encouraging signs infections are now heading in the right direction across the country, but we must not drop our guard. Cases and hospital admissions remain high – over 20,000 COVID-19 patients are in hospital – so it is vital we all remain vigilant and follow the rules as our vaccination rollout continues at pace.’
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee held an evidence session on easing lockdown measures in England on Wednesday. Here, it was suggested by Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, that the country could potentially begin to ease out of lockdown earlier than it did the first-time round because of promising data on Covid-19 transmission.
He also praised the high take up of vaccinations, highlighting that the vaccine roll out has reduced transmission. On the other hand, the Government’s deputy chief scientific adviser, Professor Angela McLean, struck a more cautious argument and said that is vital that lockdown measures are reduced in line with the rollout of vaccines.
NHS Providers said four tests must be met before lockdown restrictions can be reduced. Firstly, Covid-19 infections should be around 1,000 a day; NHS capacity must be high enough to treat all patients; the vaccination campaign should be sufficiently advanced and, finally, an effective strategy should be in place to rapidly identify and control future outbreaks.