AS we head towards the end of another year of pandemic, Health Minister Robin Swann brought a welcome dose of reality to the increasingly fractious Covid debate when he pointed out on Tuesday that two-thirds of patients aged under 50 in hospital with the virus are unvaccinated.
There are those who for political or socially dogmatic reasons are attempting to muddy the waters of this public health crisis by jumping up and down hysterically about vaccine passports, about the possibility of another lockdown, about personal freedom, about trusting the people ahead of the scientists. But this is not about any of those things, all of which are mere symptoms of the main malaise. This is all about vaccination.
We can see that the threat to our health service, the threat to us all, comes from a significant minority who have bought for whatever reason into the vaccine scepticism that we see around us every day.
If we extrapolate Minister Swann’s hospital figures on into the expected Omicron variant surge of coming weeks, we can see that the threat to our health service, the threat to us all, comes from a significant minority who have bought for whatever reason into the vaccine scepticism that we see around us every day.
Two further current statistics are absolutely key in the battle to manage the crisis over Christmas and the New Year. At present, the number of people in hospital with Covid is at 248 the lowest number since July. While on the face of it that appears to be good news, it is to be considered alongside the fact that this week also our seven-day infection rate hit a new high of 785.6 per 100,000. In other words, our hospitals are in the middle of a period of relative calm before the storm.
Alongside lower hospital admission figures is a soaring infection rate and we are about to experience a precipitous rise in the number of people with Covid requiring hospital treatment. And don’t be fooled by the claims that Omicron is much milder than others. Even if that’s true – and all the necessary science from South Africa is not in on that – the “eye-watering” transmissibility of Omicron means that even if there’s a lower hospital admission rate, the much higher numbers of Omicron cases will obliterate that possible advantage as it rips through communities.
What happens now is up to us. For now. Do we remain the place on these islands with the lowest vaccination uptake, or do we get real and do what we have to do to prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed? It is unrealistic to expect that the percentage of unvaccinated hospital admissions will fall dramatically in the coming days and months, given the centrality of time in the infection/vaccination equation. But the work to ward off the mid- and late-January storm must begin now.
That quite simply means increased vaccination and enhanced accessibility. It also means more and better messaging. And it will require certain unionist politicians to begin acting to promote the greater good of public health instead of indulging in grotesque populist posturing.
We have some control left. Let’s not squander it.