When we first warned, in November, about the devastating impact of hospital-acquired Covid during the first wave – as thousands of patients who were being treated on wards for other conditions caught Covid and then died – we were shouted down, most notably by NHS England itself.
Its spin doctors first obfuscated and then tried desperately to play down the situation. But it was soon undeniable, with report after report confirming what we had exposed.
I also called for all healthcare workers, including carers, to be vaccinated as a priority, in order to protect them, protect the NHS from collapse due to staff absence, and, most importantly, to protect vulnerable patients.
And if those staff members can’t, or choose not to have the vaccine, I said they should be redeployed to non-patient-facing roles.
I believe that, if necessary, having the jab should be written into their contracts.
Saying this didn’t make me popular in some quarters. In fact, I received death threats.
Israel, which like the UK has been incredibly proactive in getting its population vaccinated, last week began jabbing teenagers aged 16 and up. Pictured: A teenager is administered the vaccine in Tel Aviv
But earlier this month, Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium – a body made up of NHS Trusts, universities, research institutes and public health groups which tracks how the virus spreads – confirmed that 80 per cent of community outbreaks have at least one healthcare worker involved. It’s proof that hospital infections don’t just affect people who go into hospital.
I’m a case in point: my husband and I caught Covid in December from my sister, who’d most likely picked it up while in hospital for routine scans on her back.
With the vaccine rollout steaming ahead, there are signs the tide is already turning – some NHS Trusts are reporting a halving in outbreaks of hospital-acquired Covid.
But it’s vital there’s no slack in the system – every single staff member, from medics to cleaners, has to have the jab for it to work.
And then who next? Teachers? Police officers? I have another suggestion: teenagers.
OK, at the moment, with the ongoing row between the UK and EU over stocks of vaccines, the big focus is on supply. And, of course, there are worries about this South African variant.
But beyond that, it’s vital we begin to think more carefully about exactly how the virus spreads, rather than who is most directly at risk from it.
And that’s why, I believe, vaccinating teenagers and then perhaps even children could be the key.
It’s true that younger people don’t tend to get ill with Covid. At first this was so striking that experts wondered whether children and teens were somehow unable to catch it at all.
But it’s become clear that this isn’t the case. Teenagers, in particular, are a vector for this disease.
According to the Office for National Statistics, in the first week of January, among all age groups the highest rate of coronavirus infection was in 11-to-16-year-olds.
The second highest was 17-to-24-year-olds.
And you can bet that for every symptomatic case, there are more who are carrying the virus but displaying no symptoms at all – happily going about their lives and spreading it.
Israel, which like the UK has been incredibly proactive in getting its population vaccinated, last week began jabbing teenagers aged 16 and up. Why? There, ten-to- 19-year-olds currently make up 21 per cent of known infections.
When we first warned, in November, about the devastating impact of hospital-acquired Covid during the first wave – as thousands of patients who were being treated on wards for other conditions caught Covid and then died – we were shouted down, most notably by NHS England itself, writes VIVIENNE PARRY. Pictured: Stock image
Israel has already vaccinated a third of its entire nine million population, and moving on to teens is a bid to further halt the spread of infection.
‘They are the megaspreaders,’ said Israeli government adviser Ido Hadari.
And what of younger kids? In the UK, children aged two to ten were – in official figures – among the least likely to have the infection.
But this is based on positive tests, and schoolchildren are not being tested routinely – it generally happens only when they or someone in their family get symptoms.
Could it be that they carry the virus totally asymptomatically?
Well, that’s what we see with flu. As with Covid, younger people are fairly unscathed by flu, but we know they do pass it on.
That’s why we started giving two-to-17-year-olds the flu vaccine back in 2014. And it’s been a stonking success. In studies, thanks to the programme there was astonishing 85 per cent drop-off in hospital admissions of older people for flu, and a 63 per cent reduction in GP consultations.
Of course, there’s that question: does the Covid vaccine prevent transmission? We know for sure it stops people getting ill, but could those who’ve had the jab still carry the virus and give it to others without realising?
Well, the answer is yes, they probably do. That’s why those who have had the jab still need to stick to social-distancing rules for the time being – for their own protection but also for everyone else’s.
But ultimately this won’t matter as much as people might think.
On Thursday, deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam went on record to say the Covid vaccine ‘couldn’t fail’ to slow the spread of infections, as well as preventing disease, and that research was under way to assess this.
Pictured: A person enters a coronavirus vaccination centre at Westfield Stratford, London
Studies already show that among those vaccinated the virus is around for a much shorter period – a couple of days versus a week or more. In addition, someone will not get seriously ill and be taken into hospital, where we know a huge amount of transmission takes place.
On the most basic level, if you don’t have symptoms you’ll cough less and so spread less virus. What’s more, there is a Covid jab in the offing that may halt transmission as well as illness.
On Friday, the American makers of the Novavax vaccine announced interim results showing it offered almost 90 per cent protection against illness. It works against the new Kent variant, too.
But most importantly, it looks from animal studies that it also stops people from even carrying the virus – so-called sterilising immunity.
If approved by regulators, it’ll be going into arms by April.
Of course, no Covid jab is licensed in the UK for under-18s, and it’s right for regulators to be cautious.
But in Israel, the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for ages 16 and up. If we followed suit, it could be a game-changer – perhaps more so than giving it to teachers.
As with healthcare workers, success will rely on enough youngsters actually having the jab (nasal-spray versions are on the horizon, too).
Parents will need to consent. Some will have reservations. But today, most think nothing of the flu vaccine – it’s just something that kids get.
And undoubtedly the Covid vaccine will quickly be seen in the same way. Simple, painless, and an absolute lifesaver.