Christmas might be a little different again this year because COVID-19 is still with us, but if we all continue to make the right choices and follow the restrictions in place to help keep ourselves, our loved ones and our communities safe, there’s hope for brighter times ahead in 2022.
With best wishes for a safe and happy Christmas,
from everyone at Devon County Council
COVID-19 case rates have fallen slightly over the last week in Devon, but they are rising rapidly nationally, especially in London. So although we’re currently seeing a drop in positive cases, we expect cases to start to surge in Devon and the south west in the next week or so.
In this update:
- Please be cautious about socialising this Christmas
- COVID-19 booster programme ramps up in Devon
- Omicron now dominant COVID-19 variant in part of the country
- Consider using public transport to get to vaccination centres
- If you need help over the festive period
Please be cautious about socialising this Christmas
While the country may be winding down for Christmas, efforts to protect ourselves from the COVID-19 Omicron variant are ramping up significantly.
It’s spreading at a phenomenal pace and is very likely to be the dominant strain soon, although not enough is known about it yet to fully understand its impact on our health.
All adults are advised to take up their booster vaccine, as soon as they are eligible to do so, and the NHS is pulling out the stops to make that so. The government’s target is to get the booster programme done by the end of the year, but this week Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, urged the public to be cautious about socialising in the run up to Christmas. In short, he said:
“Don’t mix with people you don’t have to.”
He’s urging us to prioritise events and celebrations that are important to us, because otherwise we risk getting infected attending something that doesn’t matter, and then we can’t do the things that really do matter to us.
Steve Brown, Devon’s Director of Public Health, echoes the sentiment. He said:
“My advice is for everyone to be as cautious as possible over Christmas and New Year.
“Booster take-up is going well in Devon, but the Omicron variant is so infectious, it’s not worth putting ourselves and others at risk unnecessarily.
“Many of us will have made plans for Christmas, to travel to see family and friends. But I think right now, this year, we need to prioritise what we want to do most, and minimise the amount of time we spend in larger gatherings.
“If we are planning to spend time with family or friends, please do everything you can to protect yourselves and each other.
“Get your booster vaccination – that’s a priority; get tested before you get together, and if you’re away a while take tests with you; follow the national advice, especially about wearing face coverings; and remember to let the fresh air in, because that reduces the risk of infection.”
COVID-19 booster programme speeds up in Devon
The NHS in Devon is rising to the challenge of offering every adult in the county the COVID-19 booster vaccine by the end of December as quickly and safely as possible to try to limit the impact of the Omicron variant.
They’ve increased the opening hours and days of operation of their vaccine sites (with some open until 2.00am!), opening up additional GP and pharmacy sites, and increasing the number of walk-in and pop-up sessions.
Recent data suggests that the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine against symptomatic infection is substantially reduced, especially with the Omicron variant, with just two doses, but a third dose boosts protection back up to over 70 per cent, so it’s important to have.
Additional appointments are regularly being added to the national booking service and demand is high so the advice is to be patient, but persevere and keep checking back. Please do not phone your GP about vaccinations – they will contact you if needed, and they cannot help with national booking service enquiries.
Drop-in/pop-up clinics will be advertised through media and social media
when they are available and when sites have availability. Follow Devon’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Omicron now dominant COVID-19 variant in parts of the country
The South West has an Omicron prevalence of 30.6 per cent, (at the time of sending you this newsletter) – that’s a percentage of the population who’s positive PCR test identifies the Omicron variant.
The ZOE COVID Study has published a map of England where Omicron is present. Dark areas, such as the London region, show were Omicron has become the dominant strain, whereas light areas, such as Devon, show Delta remains dominant, for now.
Earlier this week we sent you a special edition of this newsletter, following the various changes and announcements we’ve heard in the last week in response to Omicron. If you missed it, you can find it online.
In it, we round up all of the new measures, which ministers have since supported in parliament; we talk about the booster jab, who’s eligible, and why we need it; but also, that it’s not too late to get any of your vaccinations.
Thanks to all of you who have been in touch to tell us how helpful it is.
Waiting after your COVID-19 vaccination
Up until now, people receiving the Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines have been asked to wait for 15 minutes before leaving the vaccination centre. This was because the rate of serious allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) reported after these two vaccines is slightly higher (around 5 to 10 per million doses) than after other vaccines (normally 1 per million).
The COVID-19 booster programme is being sped up because of the Omicron variant, and as part of this, and given the very low rate of anaphylaxis, the Chief Medical Officer, with the support of the Medicines Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that the 15 minute wait be suspended.
If you have a history of allergies, particularly to other vaccines, or if you had an immediate reaction after your previous doses, you may still be advised to stay for the 15 minutes. Please make sure you tell the vaccination centre. Please also tell them if you have previously fainted following vaccination.
Otherwise you will be able to leave the centre straight after your vaccine as long as you feel OK. However, you must not drive for 15 minutes after the vaccine – this is because of the risk of fainting.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction include a persistent cough, a hoarse voice, swollen tongue, difficulty breathing, feeling lightheaded or fainting, clammy skin, confusion or being unresponsive or unconscious. These symptoms, if they develop, typically happen within 15 minutes of vaccination. If you experience any of the these, call out for help and/or ring 999 immediately (or ask someone to do this for you).
Consider using public transport to get to vaccination centres
With more people able to get their COVID-19 vaccines, and the booster programme expanded, we’ve seen the roads around vaccination centres busy with traffic this week, particularly the main route to the Greendale Vaccination Centre, near Exeter.
If you have not made an appointment for Greendale, and are considering walking-in without an appointment, please check ahead to make sure that they are accepting walk-ins that day. The teams are very busy, and may be prioritising those who have booked their vaccination slot in advance.
If you have made an appointment, please consider using public transport. The Stagecoach 9 and 9A buses run between Exeter and East Devon and pass the Greendale vaccination site. You can leave your car at Sowton Park and Ride on Sidmouth Road and catch either route from there.
And from Saturday 18 until Friday 31 December, a FREE park and ride coach service will be available from Park School in Barnstaple, for people getting vaccinated at the North Devon Leisure Centre.
When attending vaccination sites, be prepared for a wait. Bring warm clothes,
a flask of tea, anything that helps you while you wait. Staff are doing everything they can to get you seen, so please be kind and bear with them. If you are frail or have mobility difficulties, or if you are pregnant, there are people looking out for you to take you to seating areas and if you need help, please tell a marshal.
Look out for traffic updates via our Twitter account @DevonAlert
Our Travel Devon website includes helpful information for people needing to travel to their vaccination appointments. It includes a link to Traveline, which can help you choose your public transport options.
If you are unable to drive or get a lift or use public transport to get to your appointment, you may be able to find transport via the network of voluntary organisations that operate across Devon. We have details about voluntary transport services that are supporting the vaccination programme.
Pregnant women now a clinical risk group
The government has said that women who are pregnant will now be considered a clinical risk group within the coronavirus vaccination programme.
It puts more emphasis on the importance for pregnant women to take up the vaccine.
Growing evidence shows women who are pregnant to be at greater risk of serious consequences from coronavirus. Most pregnant women admitted to hospital with severe COVID-19 are unvaccinated, so a key priority is to increase the number of pregnant women completing their first two doses, at eight weeks apart.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chair of the Joint Committee on vaccination and immunisation, said:
“Women who are pregnant are strongly encouraged to have a first, second or booster vaccine to better protect yourself and your baby from any serious consequences from COVID-19.
“There is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 vaccines used in pregnancy increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirths, congenital abnormalities or birth complications. Having a UK approved COVID-19 vaccine is safer than having COVID-19 itself.”
Vaccinating school children
Vaccination teams have visited all schools across Devon in the last three months providing COVID-19 and flu vaccinations to 12–15 year olds.
This age group can also book an appointment via the National Booking Service. First dose COVID-19 vaccinations will continue to be available at Devon’s main vaccination centres through the school holidays, and, for those who received their first dose at least 12 weeks ago, they will be able to book a second dose from next week (Monday 20 December) with appointments available from 10 January.
Vaccination teams will be visiting schools again in the new term to give first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines to 12-15 year olds.
Shop local to support Devon’s economy
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to be felt by businesses across Devon, particularly in the retail and leisure industry.
High streets are open and eager to welcome shoppers in the run up to Christmas, which has traditionally been their busiest time.
Shopping locally and supporting Devon’s retailers and traders is really important. It means your money stays in Devon and boosts the local economy, supporting jobs and livelihoods for thousands of residents.
It’s also better for the environment as produce sold in high street butchers, bakers, grocers and local eateries are likely to have travelled fewer miles and require minimal packaging.
Please remember if you are visiting the high street, to adhere to the national health and safety guidance to help protect yourself and others. This includes:
- wearing a face covering inside any shop or business
- keeping a safe distance from people outside of your household
- washing your hands or using sanitiser frequently
- using cashless payments when possible.
Call for unpaid carers to look after themselves this winter
Devon Carers is encouraging all unpaid carers to have the COVID-19 booster to help protect themselves, and the people they care for, from coronavirus this winter.
As someone who gives their time to support a family member, friend, or neighbour, it’s really important that unpaid carers look after their own health and wellbeing first.
We recognise that COVID-19 is particularly challenging for unpaid carers, and so have provided additional funding for ‘Special Schemes’ that have been designed to help when they need a break from their caring role.
If this sounds like you or someone you know, please get in touch with Devon Carers, they offer a range of specialist support from a listening ear to advice on break funds and emergency planning.
Visit the Devon Carers website or call 01392 307720.
If you need help over the festive period…
Lots of public services remain open over the festive period, although operating times may be reduced.
You can find our Customer Service Centre’s Christmas opening hours on our website.
There’s also information about our social care services over Christmas.
If you need to contact your GP practice please check their online services. You can book appointments, request sick notes and order repeat prescriptions and download the NHS App. You can also save time and consult with your GP practice online via their website. Alternatively, you can phone them. Most GP practices in Devon are open until Christmas Eve, and re-open again on Wednesday 28 December.
If you think you need to go to A&E, call 111 first or click www.111.nhs.uk. Clinicians will advise you on where to go, or what to do next, and can book a time to attend a service – such as a hospital, pharmacy or GP practice – where appropriate.
Many minor illnesses and injuries like coughs, colds, grazes, small cuts or a sore throat can be treated at home or in holiday accommodation. Be prepared for common health problems by keeping a well-stocked medicine cabinet.
Pharmacists advise and treat illnesses like hay fever, diarrhoea, earache, painful cough, sticky eye, teething and rashes. By visiting your pharmacy, you can avoid an unnecessary trip to your GP or A&E and save time. Find your nearest pharmacy online and check their opening arrangements over Christmas and New Year.
If you are an adult and need urgent mental health support, call: Devon and Torbay 0300 555 5000; Plymouth 01752 434 922 (24 hours). For children and young people’s support in Plymouth (including for parents and carers) call 01752 435 122.