Lucy Wightman's LAST column: Everyone needs to help to ensure we can live safely in Northamptonshire with Covid among us
'We all need to continue to play our vital part in preventing further cases across Northamptonshire' says county's public health director
Vacation or staycation - either way I hope you have been fortunate enough to take a few hard-earnt days or weeks’ holiday this summer. If not, we still have the promise of a sunny September. I remain hopeful!
Much is happening in the world right now and COVID-19 seems to have taken a temporary back seat in news headlines. Sadly, it remains the case that the virus silently continues to spread across the county, the country and the globe.
Closer to home, here in Northamptonshire once again cases have risen slightly this week. Caution, as ever, remains key, especially as self-isolation is no longer required for double vaccinated close contacts and under 18s.
As the autumn approaches, the months ahead feel a little uncertain. It is likely that the return of cooler weather and more indoor mixing will increase transmission leading to further illness due to the virus and increased activity in our health and social care system.
One absolute truth remains: whatever the epidemic does, the overwhelming view among senior scientists is that coronavirus is here to stay. We have thankfully reached a point where we understand the virus and if we THINK COVID! as we go about our daily lives, test regularly, get doubly vaccinated and behave in a COVID safe manner then we have a fighting chance of limiting transmission and severe disease amongst the unvaccinated and vulnerable.
In recent weeks, there have been large changes in the way the virus has been spreading in the UK, particularly in younger age groups. Fortunately, as the adult vaccine programme has successfully progressed and more safety data has become available, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised that all 16- and 17-year olds should receive their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Ahead of the new term the current rollout to this age group is now underway.
We can be confident that young people will be afforded around 80 percent protection against hospitalisation following receipt of their first dose. It is expected that protection will probably be even higher as younger people respond better to vaccines and some will have already had the infection, meaning they will have an even better response to a first dose. Advice on when to offer the second vaccine dose will come later.
While COVID-19 is typically mild or asymptomatic in most young people, it can be very unpleasant for some and for this particular age group, we expect one dose of the vaccine to provide good protection against severe illness and hospitalisation. Please encourage the youngsters in your life to get jabbed.
This will be the last column I write. I have spoken to the editor, David Summers, at the Chronicle and Echo, who has been extremely supportive throughout the pandemic, and we have agreed to pause publication. The messaging of late is generally government advice rather than tailored tips garnered from local intelligence - which was vital earlier on in the pandemic.
As things have returned to normal, I wouldn’t want any of you to tire of my messaging and switch off. We are now at a point where if we do follow the government advice then hopefully rates will remain at a manageable level. If we are unlucky and the virus mutates, rendering the vaccine ineffective, or if figures rise to a very concerning level again then I will use this very precious slot in the newspaper and online to inform you weekly of the situation and offer advice as we go.
In the absence of this you can find all the latest data and messages in the weekly surveillance data reports on the North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire websites: https://www.northamptonshire.gov.uk/coronavirus-updates/Pages/local-coronavirus-guidance-and-advice.aspx . If you have social media accounts the most up to date figures and data can also be found if you follow us; on Twitter @NorthantsPH, Facebook, PublicHealthNorthants, Instagram @publichealthnorthants @publichealthnorthamptonshire and Tiktok,@publichealthnorthants.
We all need to continue to play our vital part in preventing further cases across the county and rest assured that Northamptonshire’s Public Health team will continue to monitor and manage outbreaks in all settings.
The team also does all kinds of work in the background which you may not be aware of and they will continue to champion health across the whole of the local authority's business, promoting healthier lifestyles and scrutinising and challenging the NHS and other partners to promote better health and ensure all threats to health are addressed - not just from infectious disease!
When we first started this journey together, we knew so little about the virus and its movements. We now know so much and we must use this knowledge to keep it under control. To ensure we can live safely with COVID-19 amongst us in the months ahead, I am once again asking for everyone’s help.
Firstly, vaccination sites across the county are offering walk-in appointments without booking. So, if you’ve not yet received the offer of a vaccination, you can check the timetable which is updated weekly, and pop in at a time that suits you. If you have questions, staff at the vaccination site will be able to help. By getting vaccinated, you are protecting yourself and your community.
Secondly, it remains essential for anyone with symptoms that they isolate immediately and book a PCR test straight away.
Thirdly, with COVID-19 circulating so widely, I’d like to remind people who do not have symptoms that they should still be undertaking a rapid COVID-19 lateral flow test twice a week. If your LFT result is positive, you must self-isolate and get a PCR test to confirm the result. This will also help reduce further transmission.
Finally - Stay COVID-Safe. We can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and a range of other infections through frequent hand washing with soap, by using face coverings in crowded indoor settings, and by socialising outdoors wherever possible or in rooms with plenty of fresh air circulating.
I hope you have found this up-to-date messaging useful and I trust that now you will continue to be COVID-safe as you go about your daily lives. Northamptonshire and the world has had a rollercoaster of a ride over the last 18 months and I’m not sure there were many highs along the way, so its not a journey I really want to repeat!
One day in the future, those of us fortunate to have survived the past 18 months may look back at this period in our lives as a time of terror and tragedy but also of triumph of the human spirit. Many of us had never even met or worked together before and the overarching positive outcomes from the pandemic was that we were united in a common endeavour. I have been humbled by the commitment and dedication so many of you have shown to help local people and communities. You were involved in delivering food making sure people didn’t go hungry, picking up medicine, or checking in on neighbours and having that all important chat which was the difference between good and poor mental health - and your efforts have proved to be invaluable. I’m sure that many of you will remain active in your communities in the future, but for now I thank you once again. Thankfully, many of us are now vaccinated and that offers great protection against severe illness and death but we still need to stop the spread.
To date, we have lost 1,429 of our loved ones to COVID-19. A total of 66,150 positive cases have been identified in Northamptonshire. Your hard work and great sacrifice have meant we have also saved thousands of lives.
Admittedly the future is uncertain, but one thing is for sure - if we continue the way we have done, we can safeguard thousands more residents from illness and Long-COVID. Northamptonshire, we must keep on keeping on and I am confident that we will. Keep looking out for each throughout the coming months. We have shown how much we care; we have seen first-hand the kindness of strangers and demonstrated that together we can and we will overcome.
Please look after yourselves and for now - thank you for reading and playing your part!