After a summer of greater freedoms, it can be easy to talk about the pandemic in the past tense.
As we move into September and begin returning in larger numbers to workplaces, schools and universities, we face a new challenge and it’s imperative that we do everything we can to prepare ourselves. Vaccines are our strongest line of defence. We know how very effective they are as recent PHE data estimates they’ve prevented more than 100,000 deaths.
Sixty-seven per cent of London’s over-18s have had their first dose but just 59 per cent have also had their second. While this is a great achievement, we need even more Londoners protected by two doses of the vaccine. Both doses are needed for maximum protection.
A fifth of Covid hospital admissions in England are people aged 18-34 (four times higher than the peak in winter 2020), and we’re seeing this reflected in London as our lowest vaccination rates are young people. Getting the vaccine is far safer than getting Covid.
Low uptake rates in pregnant women have also meant rising infections, hospitalisations, and complications including stillbirth. The vaccines are safe and the Pfizer and Moderna jabs are recommended for all pregnant women.
Confidence in the vaccines has risen, especially among black, Asian and ethnic minority communities who were initially most hesitant — but the uptake is still much lower than we need it to be. They were hit hardest at the start of the pandemic, alongside those from more disadvantaged parts of the city, and we do not want to see Covid ravage these groups again.
Vaccines are safe, effective and our most powerful tool to help keep life moving. If you’re 16 and over and not had yours yet, now is the time. If you’ve had your first, please get your second dose as soon as your eight-week interval is up. As we head into autumn and winter, a time when respiratory viruses like Covid and flu are at their peak, we could find ourselves and our NHS in a very difficult place If we don’t increase the number of vaccinated Londoners.
We must continue good practices. Regular rapid flow testing is critical to prevent us unknowingly spreading the virus, particularly if we are attending events or seeing lots of people. If you feel unwell, isolate and get a PCR test as soon as you can. Getting a flu jab will also be vital in reducing winter pressures on our hospitals. This will be our first autumn and winter since Covid started without the restriction of lockdowns or enforced social distancing to reduce the spread, so we must remain vigilant. Be responsible for yourself and those around you.
Professor Kevin Fenton is London regional director for Public Health England