Covid Watch 170: Boosters boosted as Boris Johnson declares “Omicron Tidal Wave” but don’t panic say local GPs

Spare a thought for our GPs, pharmacists and health professionals. They will be falling asleep as they tuck into their Christmas turkeys and nut roasts as they work flat out to meet the unprecedented vaccination drive announced by Boris Johnson last night. Unprecedented that is, since the last unprecedented vaccination drive earlier in the year. Unprecedented the since recent weekends and evenings when our health teams have been working flat out at vaccination clinics. Now GPs are being asked to do even more.

Our GPs in Ludlow are urging people not to panic or to flood their surgeries with calls asking when boosters will be available. South west Shropshire is now ahead of many areas in vaccination rates and you will be called in turn.

I have been speaking to local GPs this morning. They are confident that they can meet the new target in Ludlow and south west Shropshire but warn that health professionals are overdue for a break.

Dr Caron Morton at Station Drive Surgery told me this morning:

“People mustn’t panic because we are head of the game in Ludlow and south west Shropshire. Everyone over forty has had two jabs and they are now being called in for booster jabs. There has been a massive take up.

“Up to 1,000 people a day are being vaccinated at extraordinary 12-hour clinics.

“The prime minister has set a huge challenge when some of our staff working an extra 20 hours a week. We still must treat all patients with long term and urgent health needs, while we are rolling out the vaccination programme.”

Dr Catherine Beanland at Portcullis Surgery said:

“In terms of panic, I think anyone who is unvaccinated should be very concerned by Omicron. Anyone without a booster should try and get the booster as soon as possible but as they are in general younger, they should be ok anyway. This weekend, we completed most of the over 40s and all we have left are the under 40s.

“I think we might finish [the booster programme for south west Shropshire] by Christmas. That would indeed be a welcome break.”

Boris Johnson said last night that booster jabs will be offered to everyone over 18 in England from this week to tackle the “Omicron emergency”. The prime minister’s statement came hours after the UK’s Covid alert level was raised to level four (out of five levels) for the first time since May:

“No one should be in any doubt, there is a tidal wave of Omicron coming.”

UK data suggests that three jabs provide 70-75% protection against infection with Omicron, while two doses given three or more months ago give 30% to 40% or less protection.

Boris Johnson, no great fan of social restrictions that might get in the way of partying or quizzes, is facing a backbench rebellion in the House of Commons tomorrow over the Plan B measures introduced over the last few days. He will be anxious not to have a repeat of last year’s Christmas debacle when restrictions were imposed at the last minute – too little and too late to prevent a New Year surge in cases. Tomorrow, he will undoubtedly be challenged about why people are being encouraged to work from home but allowed to party in nightclubs.

There is to be a renewed call for volunteers. The Guardian says the army will be called in and GPs will be told to cancel appointments:

“The army will be deployed across the country to help rapidly accelerate the vaccine programme and GPs will be told to cancel appointments to dedicate resources to offering vaccines to every UK adult by the end of December.”

That comes after GPs were told that routine checks for older people should be deferred to free capacity for the battle against Omicron.

This extra pressure comes as NHS data showed that 93% of adult general and acute (G&A) beds in Shropshire were occupied on 5 December, with just 50 of 683 beds free. It comes, as Tracey Huffer detailed on Saturday, amid unprecedented delays to ambulances and long delays transferring patients to A&E. Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust has twice the length of handover delays being experienced in neighbouring trusts and three times the average delay across England. The trust has asked people to go to their GPs and pharmacists rather than the two A&Es. Wise advice in normal circumstances. But GPs are close to maximum capacity and SaTH should not try to resolve its own failures by dumping workload on GPs.

Update midday 13 December

Boris Johnson said last night that all eligible adults “will have the chance to get their booster before the New Year”. No, the Department of Health now says. People will be “offered” a booster. That’s what I said above originally as there has long been a confusion betwen offers of delivery and delivery. That said, our local GPs are confident of getting the job done to everyone’s benefit.

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