Leading article

Editorial: Answers urgently needed on NHS vaccine rates

AMID all the public messaging about the need to vaccinate to save lives and reduce Covid hospital admissions, it might reasonably have been assumed that the health service had its own house in order.

Time after time the health minister and senior officials have set out how vaccination is key to protecting ourselves and those around us, as well easing intense pressures on the health system.

During a push to increase vaccination levels at the start of July, following the emergence of the highly-infectious Delta variant, the public were told there were no reasons for not getting the jab if eligible.

It has therefore come as a shock to learn that while inoculation of the general population had reached about 80 per cent by that time, as few as six out of 10 nurses in the Belfast health trust were fully vaccinated.

A freedom of information query by this paper also revealed huge disparities in uptake rates between healthcare staff, with 94 per cent of doctors having had their first dose against an average of 73 per cent for all trust staff.

The trust said the figures only included vaccines administered at its own dedicated facility and not at other sites such as regional centres and GP surgeries.

However, it is alarming that is has been unable to provide accurate or updated figures or confirm if disparities have been addressed.

It should go without saying that health professionals in contact with vulnerable patients at most risk of suffering serious consequences from contracting coronavirus bear an even greater responsibility to be vaccinated.

In England, staff in care homes have been told they will have to be double jabbed to continue working after next month.

A consultation has also been launched on making vaccination against both Covid-19 and the flu compulsory for frontline workers across all health and care settings.

Closer to home - in fact within the bounds of the Belfast trust - the head of the private Kingsbridge hospital has told how mandatory vaccination for all employees introduced in May quickly achieved 100 per cent compliance.

Two questions now need urgently answered.

First, on what basis are we not following England's lead on mandatory vaccination in health and care settings, given our own alarming combination of lower vaccine uptake and higher Covid rates?

And second, why do we not even have the up-to-date information on which to base these life and death decisions?

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