This report will provide an update on the Local Outbreak Management Plan and other recent updates in light of the Governments living with COVID-19 strategy. This report will focus on new updates since the last brief was presented to the Board on 10 February 2022.
The Director of Public Health (DPH) provided an update on the Local Outbreak Management Plan (LOMP) and amendments made to this plan in light of the Government’s living with COVID-19 strategy.
The DPH highlighted that from 1 April, the Government would, amongst other things, no longer provide free universal symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public in England. Specific guidance on living with COVID-19 had been produced. In addition, information on how to access testing for the minority of individuals and organisations who might still be eligible for testing (health and social care staff, clinically vulnerable individuals) had been published and disseminated. He advised the Government would continue to be guided by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on whether there would be any changes or amendments made to the deployment of the COVID-19 vaccination programme. This programme had prevented many hospitalisations and deaths. He urged Board members to encourage those who were most vulnerable or yet to take up their initial vaccine offer to get vaccinated. The vaccination programme was being maintained as they remained accessible after 1 April.
The DPH advised Medway Council would continue to work with partners and maintain surveillance capability to monitor the prevalence and spread of COVID-19 locally. Working with the UK Health Security Agency, the Council was able to access data from the Office for National Statistics and other sources to track the spread of COVID-19. Medway was also retaining a residual capability for a period to undertake surge testing if required.
The following issues were discussed:
Scenarios - concern was raised about the actions that would be undertaken if the worst-case scenario whereby young people were badly affected due to the emergence of a new variant of COVID-19. In response, the DPH advised that ongoing surveillance would enable the early identification of such a variant. There would then be a system response appropriate to the risk initiated by the UK Health Security Agency. The local authority would be part of that response.
Vaccination - on ways to encourage vulnerable people who had previously refused to receive vaccines but had now a change of minds in the course of time, the DPH referred to the evergreen offer for those who were yet to receive the first jab. He said that there was good evidence from work undertaken with local community champions to encourage vaccination uptake. The Head of Health and Wellbeing referred to the vaccine hesitancy programme. Different approaches had been used to engage with and support diverse community groups to take up the offer of vaccination to protect against the COVID-19 virus. He added that there was an important role for advocates, especially councillors, who were important influencers to help boost vaccine uptake now and in preparation for the autumn period. The DPH advised that those at extremely high risk with a weakened immune system, and people aged 75 years and over, were being offered the Spring booster of COVID-19 vaccine. The NHS were in the process of contacting these specific groups individually through different means and arranging for them to be vaccinated at either the GPs or a vaccination centre.
Asked whether the uptake of the Spring booster had been affected by the issue of complacency, the DPH pointed out that the uptake rates among those 75+ and people at risk were very satisfactory. The Executive Director, Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group advised that there were small cohorts in the population who did not believe in vaccination. She understood that some young children’s parents had refused to have their children vaccinated. In this regard, the DPH emphasised the need to facilitate and enable these people to understand the benefits of vaccination.
Testing - expressing appreciation to the Public Health team of Medway in particular those who helped at vaccination centres, a member asked about the availability of testing after 1 April. The DPH advised that under the national policy, there would be some limited ongoing free testing available for a small number of at-risk groups from 1 April. This cohort could continue to order test kits via an online portal. The living with COVID-19 guidance provided public advice for everyone to help them avoid infection. It was recognised that people on low incomes who were not eligible for free testing might have concerns. The main thing for everyone to do if they experienced COVID symptoms was to self-isolate and monitor their conditions. Should they need additional support, advice was available online and through 111 for general NHS queries. The best way to ensure the risk was reduced for such groups was to ensure they were all properly vaccinated.
Employers – as regards safer behaviours to be adopted by employers, the DPH advised that from 1 April, the Government would remove the health and safety requirements for every employer to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments and replace the existing set of “Working Safely” guidance with new public health guidance. This enabled employers to take responsibility for implementing appropriate mitigation within a specific workplace environment.
The Health and Wellbeing Board noted the report and gave recognition to all volunteers who had helped in vaccination sites across Medway.