Last Friday, 825 patients out of 3,480 patients who were in intensive care beds in England had COVID.
It’s a stark warning. The latest figures show the majority of admissions – 75 per cent – are unvaccinated.
I signed up to the NHS to serve the public – and the strain on the health service’s workforce and the public are huge. For every unvaccinated person with Covid in intensive care there’s someone else who may well be struggling to get access to a life-saving bed.
Recently, I had to plead to get a young man whose health had deteriorated back into the Intensive Therapy Unit. I knew at the time I asked there were no beds – literally there was ‘no room at the inn’. I had to go to ITU to look at one of my most trusted colleagues in the eye to beg and plead my patient’s case.
We all loathe those conversations. It may mean another ventilated patient being moved to another hospital miles away, or, as has happened previously, closing an entire operating theatre to ventilate a patient. That in itself means another patient could be delayed life-saving surgery.
These kinds of decisions are being made every day. The stresses on all concerned, staff, patients and families are excruciating. That day, my patient was lucky and a bed was found. But will we be tomorrow?
This has been this way for months. It’s depressing as the vaccines have saved literally thousands of lives, yet some still won’t see sense and take it. Even now as scientists champion the new, life-saving booster program, there are still those who refuse to even get a single dose.
As a society, the only aspect we seem to have become fully immune to is the discussion of the data. More than 1000 people continue to die of Covid every week. If two big jumbo jets crashed every seven days, would there be significantly more national outrage?
Although more than 46 million of us – 80 per cent – have had both doses, that still means many millions have still not had a first jab in the UK. It’s likely you may know someone who’s either not vaccinated or has hesitated to get the jab.
The German health minister, Jen Spahn, said last week that by the end of this winter pretty much ‘everyone will have been vaccinated, cured or dead’, which was spot on.
Although there are entirely understandable anxieties around Omicron regarding it’s transmissibility and the potential for ‘vaccine escape’, the biggest risk is that we dither and delay.
At the Doctors’ Association we welcome the planned expansion of the Covid vaccination booster programme, although we share the concerns of many regarding delivering vaccinations to 13 million more people is a huge challenge with a limited workforce.
What is really depressing is how the success of the vaccination programme and the knowledge that wearing a mask helps protect gets twisted by conspiracy theorists and even some politicians. This, of course, increases hesitancy. This week the former government minister, Desmond Swayne told right-wing Talk Radio that ‘I’m exempt from wearing a mask due to my genetic predisposition to liberty’. It’s this kind of ignorance and arrogance that is so unhelpful.
And while vaccination does reduce the risk of serious illness – it does not remove it completely, which perhaps explains such tragedies as Irfan Halim, the 45-year-old surgeon from Swindon who died of Covid despite having been double-jabbed some six months earlier. He was only days away from being offered a booster vaccine.
The vaccines have been amazing, but, like a seatbelt or obeying the speed limit, they aren’t perfect. Wearing a seatbelt and keeping to the speed limit does not remove your risk of dying in a car crash – but they both hugely help your likelihood of survival.
So ignore the idiots, mask up and get jabbed today.
Dr David Nicholl is a consultant neurologist based in Birmingham and a committee member of the Doctors’ Association UK which has a #MaskUp campaign
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