With over 1 in 4 adults vaccinated and everyone over 70 having been offered a jab, the UK has made immense progress in making people safer, reducing the future demands on the NHS and creating a sustainable path out of lockdown.
Thanks to the extremely hard and effective work of so many, in England all targets for the first four cohorts were hit two days early.
We are already moving on to the next cohorts and letters have been sent out to the 65-69 age group.
In Sussex over 500 new recruits are now in place across the vaccination network as we gear up to meet the larger cohorts in younger age groups. Whilst up until now both local GP practices and regional centres have been targeting the same groups to ensure full coverage as quickly as possible it is likely that this will change in this next phase.
Those who are clinically vulnerable aged 16-64, for example with diabetes or severe asthma are likely to be invited to attend their local GP run centres. This makes sense given GPs knowledge of their own patients. This is a major task with approximately 7.2m people to inoculate. These patients are likely to be invited in by telephone, email or text.
The regional centres will be focussed on the age brackets - currently 65-69. It will still be possible to be vaccinated locally in these cohorts but the emphasise (and quickest turnaround) is likely to be via regional centres with the closest options being Crawley, Brighton and Midhurst. Invitations will be issued by letter with recipients being invited to book on line or by telephone.
I appreciate that the success of the vaccine process will lead to greater focus on when lockdown will be lifted, and so it should.
The offer of a vaccination (and take up rates have been extremely high) to everyone over 50, alongside all NHS and care workers, and the clinically vulnerable will focus on groups who have accounted for 99 per cent of all Covid-related deaths and the vast majority of hospitalisations.
However this is not expected to be achieved before the end of April and will be taking place alongside the provision of second doses. The vaccine first dose also takes a few weeks to be effective and we do have to bear in mind that a far broader (and younger) cohort of people who are much less likely to die as a result of Covid can still become very seriously ill.
The “Kent” variant has driven a massive increase in Covid transmissibility (it is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the older strain) and this is reflected in the fact that it was only this week that the Reproduction (“R”) rate is recorded as being below 1 across the country ie that the virus case load is systematically reducing rather than rising.
We all want lockdown to end as soon as possible but it needs to end in a phased way starting with the return of schools, to ensure that the impact of renewed social mixing does not result in further set backs. So while we all want lockdown to end it is vital that this is done in a sustainable way without risking a further wave of disease.
In the longer term the virus will continue to mutate. I appreciate that scientists are working through the prospect of a “jab for life”. However I suspect that for many years we will continue to have to have an annual booster against anticipated evolutions in the virus. This is exactly the same as the last great pandemic - vulnerable people continue to receive an annual vaccination against mutated variants of the “Spanish” flu which caused such heavy loss of life 100 years ago. The reassuring fact is that work continues to progress on how to improve and maximise the effectiveness of our vaccines - including in the light of anticipated mutations.