Vaccination uptake is key to tackling the pandemic, including new variants.
As first was going to press, the success of the vaccination programme and the sacrifices made by communities across the country had helped to reduce the number of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalisations to their lowest levels since last July.
In England and Wales, subject to ongoing precautions and limits on numbers, people are finally able to eat and drink indoors in pubs and restaurants, and meet family and friends in their homes.
Cinemas, hotels, theatres and museums have reopened and some foreign travel is permitted, in what is the most significant easing of pandemic-related restrictions yet.
I know that you and your teams have been working hard to ensure that this latest step on the roadmap is managed as safely as possible, and are now planning ahead for when all restrictions are (hopefully) lifted on 21 June.
The worry, of course, is the spread of new variants. At the time of writing, there were dozens of local authority areas with five or more confirmed cases of the B1.617.2 variant of concern first identified in India, and thousands of cases in the UK overall.
We know that vaccination is our best option to tackle this awful virus, and more than 20.8 million UK adults have now received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, which is really positive news. I recently had my second dose and am hugely grateful to all the people who made that possible.
It is so important that we encourage everyone to get vaccinated. Analysis by Public Health England indicates that up to the end of April, the vaccination programme had prevented 11,700 deaths among those aged 60 and over and at least 33,000 hospitalisations among those aged 65-plus – based on people receiving their first jab only.
Vaccination uptake rates in England remain high, with all priority cohorts showing well over 90 per cent nationally, while Wales is even further ahead based on the percentage of its population to have received a first jab.
However, in response to the Indian variant, and in addition to increased ‘surge’ testing in affected areas, the Government and NHS England are bringing forward second jabs for people aged 50 and over or who are clinically vulnerable, and have urged local authorities and voluntary and community sector organisations to continue to do everything they can to maximise uptake.
Younger people aged 36 and 37 are also now being invited to book their vaccinations. As more and more people are invited to come forward, it is crucial that we engage with those who are harder to reach.
I know that all of us across local government have been and continue to work flat out to ensure vaccinations reach all of our communities; we know our local areas best, and there has been some incredible work developed on vaccination uptake. Some of this is available on the LGA’s website.
Consequently, the LGA continues to urge government to allow local flexibility so that councils, working closely with our NHS partners and others, can do whatever we need to do to protect our communities – including potentially moving to more targeted vaccinations. Councils have local outbreak management plans in place. The Government needs to let us get on with implementing them so we can continue to play our part in the national effort against COVID-19.