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Covid vaccination programme must be more advanced before lockdown eases, NHS leaders warn


By Beth Gault
18 February 2021

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The Government must ensure that the Covid vaccination campaign is ‘sufficiently advanced’ before easing lockdown restrictions, NHS Providers has warned.

In a letter to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, NHS Providers said the campaign should be advanced in order to avoid unnecessary death and patient harm.

It comes as the Government is due to publish its lockdown exit roadmap on Monday 22 February.

In a briefing document, NHS Providers said: ‘While 15 million vaccinations in 10 weeks is a huge achievement that the NHS should rightly be proud of, the level of protection this success has brought should not be over-exaggerated.’

It added: ‘There have been calls to start easing restrictions three weeks after the four most vulnerable groups have been vaccinated. However, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is clear that only once the top nine groups, including those over 50, are vaccinated do we gain 99% protection against the mortality risk.’

The document called for clarity from the Government’s roadmap on how far the vaccination campaign needs to have progressed before restrictions can be eased, alongside the likely mortality and harm rate that would result from the proposals.

Alongside the vaccination campaign, NHS Providers said there were three other tests that must be passed before relaxing lockdown measures.

These include a significant drop in Covid case numbers and the R number, NHS capacity to return to a level where it can treat all patients it needs to, and a robust strategy to identify and control future outbreaks.

‘Remain cautious’

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: ‘The Government will publish its lockdown exit roadmap in less than a week’s time. NHS trust leaders are clear, as they have been throughout the pandemic, that the approach should be to remain cautious.

‘They want to focus on data, not just dates, with four evidence-based tests met before lifting restrictions.

‘The evidence on Covid-19 cases, NHS capacity, progress with vaccinations and readiness to combat Covid-19 variants all show that it is much too early to start lifting restrictions. Covid-19 case numbers are still far too high.

‘The NHS is still at full stretch and trust leaders believe this will continue for at least another six to eight weeks.’

Hopson added: ‘We have had the debate about when and how quickly to lift restrictions several times before. Each time those arguing for a rapid relaxation were wrong and we had to reimpose restrictions, losing unnecessary lives and causing unnecessary long term patient harm in the process. 

‘If this is to be the last national lockdown we have to learn the lessons from last year and take a cautious approach.’

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