Tuesday 14 December 2021
In response to the rapid increase in cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant and the increasing risk to the public and healthcare services, the UK COVID-19 alert level has moved from level 3 to level 4.
This means that coronavirus is in general circulation, that transmission is high or rising exponentially and additional measures are required, as well as social distancing. These include:
- people are now encouraged to work from home if they can
- from Wednesday (15 December) NHS COVID passes will be mandatory for entry into nightclubs and venues where larger crowds gather. The NHS COVID Pass can be obtained by having two vaccines or a negative lateral flow test. The pass can be downloaded from the NHS app and saved onto mobile phones or saved as a PDF and printed off. They last for 30 days.
Alongside these, people should continue to take sensible precautions including ventilating rooms, testing regularly and isolating if they have COVID-19 symptoms.
Booster vaccinations are being expanded
The NHS in Devon is urging residents to 'get boosted now’ as part of the urgent national appeal to get better protection against the COVID-19 Omicron variant.
They're working hard to vaccinate more people each week than ever before, with more sites, longer opening hours, more pop-up clinics and recruiting more volunteers.
Vaccination sites in Devon are already experiencing exceptionally high demand, and people attending are being asked to come prepared to queue, and to use public transport where possible due to pressure on car parking.
NHS Devon's chief nurse, Darryn Allcorn, said:
"It is vital that people listen to the message that two doses is not enough to give you good protection against the Omicron variant. We need a third, booster dose to bring our immunity back up. We already have people in hospital in the UK who have the Omicron variant, and scientists cannot say that it is less severe than other COVID-19 variants."
Appointments at vaccination sites remain the best way to get your vaccine, and can be booked via the National Booking System.
GP practices or other local NHS healthcare providers are vaccinating people who are housebound, as quickly and as safely as possible.
Who's eligible for the booster jab
Today (Tuesday 14 December), people who are eligible for the booster jab include:
- anyone over the age of 30 years old
- people who live and work in care homes, or are frontline health and social care workers
- people aged 16 years old and over with a health condition that puts them at risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus
- people aged 16 years old and over who are a main carer for someone at high risk from coronavirus
- people aged 16 years old and over who live with someone who is more likely to get infections
From tomorrow, (Wednesday 15 December), people aged 18 years old and over can book their booster vaccination.
You will be offered a booster dose at least three months after your second dose, but you will be able to book the appointment from two months.
If you have had coronavirus recently, you need to wait 28 days after COVID-19 infection if you are 18 years old or over, or 12 weeks if you're under 18 years old, before you can receive your booster vaccination.
Please bring along your NHS number with you if you can, because that helps the vaccination teams.
Why is the booster jab necessary?
Early evidence shows that the COVID-19 Omicron variant is spreading much faster than the Delta variant, and vaccine protection against the new strain is reduced.
When vaccine protection is reduced, it's essential to top-up that protection with a booster. Both booster vaccines, (Pfizer and Moderna) increase the immune response substantially and show good effectiveness, although with some reduction compared to Delta.
The first dose, they say, is the primary school education that nails the fundamentals. The second and third doses are comparable to sending your immune system to secondary school and then university, to dramatically deepen its understanding. It's not just repeating primary school over and over.
Our antibodies learn from this education with each dose. Every dose triggers another round of antibody evolution within the immune system. It seeks out better antibodies that attach themselves more firmly to the virus, in a process called affinity maturation.
"Your antibodies are a better fit as time goes on, they are getting fancier and more sophisticated," says Professor Danny Altmann, an immunologist from Imperial College London. And the quantity of antibodies in our immune systems also increase with boosting.
What about under 18 year olds?
All children aged 12 years old and over are being offered two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
If anyone under 18 years old tests positive for COVID-19, they should wait 12 weeks before being vaccinated, because of an extremely small risk of heart inflammation (this doesn't apply to children in higher risk groups). No vaccine is currently approved for under-12 year olds in the UK.
It’s not too late to get any of your vaccinations
Steve Brown, Devon’s Director of Public Health Devon, said this week:
“The emergence of the Omicron variant, and the uncertainty right now about its impact on our health, is a reminder of how quickly situations can change.
“We know that the Omicron strain of the coronavirus is more infectious than previous variants, and it is clear that we need to do more to reduce the risk of transmission. Taking up third or booster vaccination is vital, and I would encourage everyone who is eligible to do so as soon as possible.
“I also urge everyone to heed the national guidance around the wearing of face coverings, now a requirement in most public places, especially in confined, indoor and crowded spaces; to work from home if you can; and to social distance as much as possible.
“And from today (14 December), people who are double vaccinated or between 5 years and 18 and a half years, who are identified as a contact of someone with coronavirus, whether Omicron or not, will need to take a lateral flow test every day for a week. People who are unvaccinated and identified as a contact to someone with the virus will need to self-isolate for 10 days.
“But while take up of the vaccines in Devon has been very good, not everyone has chosen to. My message to those who are eligible to do so but who have not yet chosen to take up the vaccine, is that it’s not too late. One dose is better than no dose, two doses are better than one, and three doses will give you better protection than two doses from becoming seriously unwell if you to catch coronavirus.”
Self-isolating and daily COVID-19 testing
It's still a requirement for anyone who has any of the symptoms of coronavirus - a high temperature, new and continuous cough, and change to your usual sense of taste or smell - to self-isolate and arrange a PCR test. That rule's not changed.
But what has changed this week are the requirements for people who are identified as close contacts to others who test positive for COVID-19:
- People who are unvaccinated and identified as a close contact of someone with the virus will need to self-isolate for 10 days.
Current high demand for lateral flow tests
Lateral flow device (LFD) tests are in exceptionally high demand right now.
There are a number of ways you can collect your free LFD tests, including from your local pharmacy, some community sites, and they’re available to order online for delivery at home.
Online ordering is very popular, and although there’s no shortage of LFD tests, the UK Health Security Agency said this week:
“To ensure we do not take orders we are unable to fulfil, we occasionally stop taking orders online. This is especially true in periods of increased demand. This pause is temporary and availability is refreshed daily. People are encouraged to re-visit the site tomorrow if they are unable to collect tests as more will be available.”
From Wednesday (15 December), residents in care homes will be permitted three visitors, plus an essential care giver. And care home staff will be required to take three lateral flow device (LFD) tests per week, rather than two, as well as a weekly PCR test.