More jab capacity planned in North Uttlesford as Omicron variant appears

A blue tray with Covid vaccine, and other medical equipment to deliver the vaccination

Covid vaccine - Credit: PA

The Covid vaccination programme will scale up in North Uttlesford, the Clinical Director of North Uttlesford Primary Care Network has said.

Dr Richard Boyce of The Gold Street Surgery in Saffron Walden said their original plan after nearly a year of extra work and 65,000 vaccinations had been to wind down and rest their "weary local GP practice workforce" and to focus on more regular services again. 

Instead, they will work to add more vaccination capacity because of the arrival of the new Omicron variant.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has extended the booster programme to anyone over the age of 18 and more than 12 weeks from their second dose of a Covid vaccine.

Dr Boyce said they will continue to offer Covid jabs into the New Year at the Lord Butler Leisure Centre as well as at the homes of those unable to travel.

Dora Hunter discusses with Dr Emma Pugh of Thaxted surgery about having the Covid vaccine booster

Archive: Dora Hunter discusses with Dr Emma Pugh of Thaxted surgery about having the Covid vaccine booster at the Lord Butler Leisure Centre, Saffron Walden - Credit: submitted

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

There have been several confirmed cases in Brentwood of the new Omicron variant (B 1.1.529) linked to a case in Nottingham involving international travel to Southern Africa.

In an update on Omicron, the World Health Organisation said all variations of Covid-19 can cause severe disease or death

At 4am on Tuesday November 30, further temporary measures were put in place in England including face coverings becoming a legal requirement again for using shops and public transport.

International arrivals from non-red list countries who are fully vaccinated must now isolate at home and take a PCR test on or before day two after arrival. 

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Further countries have been added to the 'red' travel list.

Essex medics still want to offer anyone their first and second dose of a Covid vaccine if it has not yet been given.

Eligible patients are those over 40 or with certain health conditions and who are six months after their second dose of a Covid vaccine.

Dr Boyce has urged residents to approach GP practices with "patience and grace". He said they are currently managing "a great deal of abuse".

He said they have now delivered around 65,000 Covid vaccines and have had a resupply of flu jabs. They hope to  have completed all of the previously eligible patients before Christmas.

Dr Boyce added: "We had been planning to pivot away from delivering these vaccines at weekends to allow us to focus more clearly on chronic health disease management as well as improving access to see a GP or health professional in a Primary Care setting.

"Our plan had been to begin winding down the Covid programme in the New Year to allow us to work on these other priorities.

"This would also have given invaluable rest to a weary local GP practice workforce.

"We recognise this is now not possible with the recent news of a new mutation causing problems across the globe and wish to confirm we will continue to offer Covid jabs into the New Year at the Lord Butler Leisure Centre as well as at the homes of those unable to travel.

"Clearly, the uncertainty and difficulties that the new variant 'Omicron' may bring us has brought the need to have vaccination back to the top of our agendas and we will therefore be working to add even more capacity to our programme over the coming weeks, despite the weariness we are carrying having been at this for nearly a year.

"We are working very hard in the background to achieve this, but please recognise that we have only learned of the requirements."

Dr Boyce has urged patients:

  1. To maintain all current recommended practices including face coverings, taking PCR tests when unwell with any symptom of Covid and washing hands regularly. 
  2. To take up the evergreen offer for a first and second dose of a Covid vaccine.
  3. To use the National Booking System either online or by ringing 119 to get an appointment at the Lord Butler Leisure Centre for those who are in the current eligible groups for boosters over the age of 40. More slots are regularly. There is very limited capacity for 'walk-in' bookings.
  4. If you are under 40 please wait to be contacted by the NHS.
  5. To please NOT call the surgery to ask about Covid vaccination. 
  6. If in doubt to please call 119, where you will be able to speak to an advisor who can help you more effectively. 
  7. To please approach your GP practice with patience and grace.

Medical staff dealing with abuse

Dr  Boyce added: "We are currently managing a great deal of abuse at our front doors and on our telephones, and this is impacting on an already stretched and tired workforce, who have already gone above and beyond in delivering the 65,000 doses.

"We are delivering more telephone, face to face and digital appointments than ever before locally, and we will always try and prioritise those people who have the greatest need.

"We recognise that all of us are tired of this pandemic, none more so than those working in the Health and Social Care Sector, but we ask for everyone to continue to show the good sense, resilience, and fortitude that has helped us get through the past 21 months so effectively.

"I also wish to recognise the continued astounding work of all of the volunteers who support the Covid vaccination programme both locally and further afield, this really would not be possible without all of their efforts continuing."