How Essex plans to fight Covid variant Omicron this December

medical screens and chairs in hall

One of the venues being used for Covid jabs is Saffron Walden's Lord Butler Fitness and Leisure Centre - Credit: SIMON OGLE

Uttlesford medics will increase their capacity threefold, will work across the upcoming festive bank holidays and aim to deliver up to 15,000 booster jabs before the New Year to fight Omicron, the highly infectious Covid variant whose numbers are rising rapidly.

In addition, a pop-up vaccination centre is being held at Chelmsford City Racecourse this weekend.

And space at Essex County Council's headquarters in Chelmsford will be used for a new Covid vaccination centre starting next week.

In the House of Commons on Tuesday night, MPs voted by a majority to introduce NHS Covid passes for the public to access large venues, and for face masks to again be compulsory for indoor settings.

A new advertising campaign has launched this week, with the Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Chris Whitty calling on the public to get a booster vaccination.

It follows the Government announcement on Sunday (December 12) that anyone over 18 should have a booster, if it has been three months since their second vaccination dose. On Monday, the bookings website struggled to keep up with demand.

Dr Richard Boyce, the Clinical Director of North Uttlesford Primary Care Network which is using the Lord Butler Leisure Centre in Saffron Walden for vaccinations, said they are increasing their capacity threefold to jab between 13,000 and 15,000 people by the New Year.

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He is urging residents to make an appointment for a booster, to plan ahead for standard service needs, and to please not be abusive to staff.

They are discouraging 'walk-in' appointments for now.

North Uttlesford PCN covers Thaxted Surgery, Newport Surgery, Gold Street Surgery and Crocus Medical Practice in Saffron Walden.

Dr Boyce of Saffron Walden's Gold Street Surgery said: "We will be working over both bank holiday weekends to ensure that as many people are offered their booster as possible, whilst aiming to reduce the impact of the programme on our normal working week, as we know how important access to General Practice is at the moment.

"We have no plans to reduce our usual service, but would ask for a degree of forward planning this week to ensure we have adequate capacity to maintain an effective and safe service whilst delivering more jabs than ever before in the coming fortnight.

"This includes ordering repeat prescriptions as early as possible, as it will be challenging to meet the demand for this next week along with delivering vaccinations, using the NHS website to decide if symptoms are needing an urgent appointment or a more routine one that can wait until the New Year, and deferring the booking of Chronic Disease Reviews until the New Year.

"If you have one booked already your surgery will contact you if we need to rearrange.

"Again, we would ask for patience and grace when interacting with your practice.

"Even this week I have heard - and had directed at me- very abusive and rude behaviour, which is very disheartening, especially as we continue to go above and beyond in the service of our local population.

"No greater example of this will be the efforts that will be expended by these same staff at the vaccination centre at a time that we all wish to be with our families and enjoying the season.

"We would ask that anyone coming to the Lord Butler Leisure Centre has a booking via the National Booking Service, by going online or phoning 119.

"As we gather workforce together, more and more slots will be added in the coming days so keep checking back regularly.

"I recognise the frustration for those wishing to be able to 'walk-in' to our centre, but we allocate vaccine according to the number of appointments and with the car park and hall already at maximum safe capacity we would discourage this except for those yet to have their first vaccine, are due their second vaccine, or are immunosuppressed and due their third dose.

"We will communicate if there is any option for walk-ins in the future."

County Hall

On Tuesday December 21, a new Covid-19 vaccination centre is being created at Essex County Council’s County Hall headquarters, Market Road, Chelmsford, as the UK’s booster vaccine rollout ramps up.

The new centre will offer first doses, second doses and booster jabs from a former registration services’ office.

Pop-up vaccination centre

Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust is running a pop-up vaccination centre at Chelmsford City Racecourse from 9am to 6pm on Saturday December 18 and Sunday December 19.

To avoid waiting, residents are advised to book in advance: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/eputs-big-vaccination-weekend-saturday-18th-sunday-19th-december-tickets-224652500677


West Essex changes to walk-in sessions

In Hertfordshire and West Essex, a number of planned vaccination walk-in sessions have been cancelled.

Officials said significant demand is leading to unacceptably long queues for the public and causing traffic disruption around some of the larger vaccination centre sites.

Please check ahead of travel to see if a walk-in session is still planned: https://covid.healthierfuture.org.uk/events/vaccination-walk-in-clinic-times

Additional sessions are bookable by calling 119 or online at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/book-coronavirus-vaccination/ 

There are a number of walk-in clinics across Essex offering vaccinations: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/find-a-walk-in-coronavirus-covid-19-vaccination-site/

In Hertfordshire and West Essex, bookable vaccination slots are already available in more than 30 community pharmacies, with more pharmacies due to join the vaccination effort soon, as well as in large vaccination centres.

In addition, GPs are contacting their own patients to call them in to be vaccinated when they are eligible.

Dr Rachel Joyce, said: "Vaccine supply is not the only issue for the staff rolling-out the vaccination programme. With a target of protecting more people than ever before in a very short time, staffing our clinics with suitably qualified professionals is also a major challenge.

“Work is urgently underway to redeploy additional staff from across the health service into vaccination centres, without affecting other critical NHS services. Please be patient with staff and volunteers who are working hard to get as many people protected as possible.”

“We are keeping walk-in arrangements under review and have temporarily reduced the number of walk-in clinics this week.

"Walk-in sessions are aimed solely at very local residents.

"Staff will monitor queues and once the capacity of a vaccination session has been reached, queues will be closed to ensure that everybody already queuing can be vaccinated.

"If you are planning to attend a walk-in clinic, please wrap up warmly and come prepared for a wait. If waiting will be difficult or uncomfortable for you because of your personal circumstances, please book an appointment instead.”

Data published on December 10 said that in the seven days to December 2,  there were 9,176 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Essex.

The spread of the Omicron variant so far


Essex Director of Public Health urges booster vaccinations

Dr Mike Gogarty, Essex County Council’s Director of Public Health, said: “Booster vaccinations are our most important defence against the emergence of the Omicron variant.

"A booster is not a ‘top up’, it is a huge increase in your ability to fight the virus.

"We know the level of immunoglobulin, the substance that provides immunity by attacking the virus, increases up to 40-fold following a booster.

"Increasing our immunity this winter is incredibly important to minimise the pressure the health service is under and I would urge everyone to come forward to book their booster jab as soon as possible.”