The recent news on rising Covid cases in China is a stark reminder that the virus is still very much with us, as is the re-introduction last week of testing protocols for visitors coming from China.
Because of the lack of comprehensive health information available on the cases, the UK Health Security Agency is also testing a sample of passengers arriving from China.
This surveillance work will enable positive cases to be sequenced, enabling us to identify any new variants that may be circulating.
But it remains true that the best form of defence against the virus is to be vaccinated.
Looking back to the start of the pandemic in early 2020, it is still extraordinary to think that a highly-effective vaccine had not only been developed but was being distributed before the end of that year.
More than 152 million jabs have been given across the UK since the vaccine was introduced in December 2020.
That includes the autumn booster campaign that started in September last year, helping to protect people into this winter.
Sixty-four per cent of over-50s in the UK have now been vaccinated as part of that campaign – 74 per cent here in East Hampshire – which is lower than the uptake seen for previous vaccination programmes.
It is perhaps understandable that living with Covid has meant people are now less worried about developing a serious illness if infected, but we know there are currently more than 9,000 patients in hospital with Covid.
Despite similar infection levels, the hospital admission rate for Covid-confirmed patients is fortunately much lower now than earlier in the pandemic, which is testament to the protection afforded by vaccination and the higher levels of immunity across the population.
NHS services are under great pressure. Every winter presents increased pressures, but this year the NHS is dealing with a significantly-higher number of flu cases as well as cases of and wider concerns around Strep A, Covid itself, and the backlog in other treatments accumulated because of the earlier pandemic.
So it remains really important that everyone who is eligible for Covid and flu jabs comes forward to be vaccinated.
As a reminder, all adults aged 50 years and over are eligible for a Covid jab, as well as those aged five to 49 years in a clinical risk group, including pregnant women – plus those aged five to 49 years who are household contacts of people with immunosuppression, those aged 16 to 49 years who are carers, residents in a care home for older adults and staff working in care homes for older adults, as well as front-line health and social care workers.
Flu jabs are available for all adults aged 50 and over (including those who will be 50 by March 31, 2023). They are also available for adults who have certain health conditions – are pregnant, are in long-stay residential care, receive a carer’s allowance or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick.
Eligibility for the flu vaccine also includes those living with someone who is more likely to get a severe infection because of a weakened immune system, children aged two and three, primary school children and secondary school children up to Year 9 (from January 2023).
Some of those who are eligible for both vaccines will receive them in one appointment, but many will receive them on separate occasions. People can book their jab via the NHS app, or the national booking service. Search ‘get vaccinated’ for more information on nhs.uk