The World Health Organisation, in the shape of the Council on the Economics of Health for All, believed in some fundamental truths: that health and the economy are interdependent and that health is in itself a key economic sector and critical to resilience and stability in economies worldwide.
With the World Health Organisation designating the new highly mutated strain of covid a “variant of concern” and giving it the Greek name omicron, it has become apparent that this mutation is present in more countries than initially thought.
The variant has been found in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong – and some cases have been confirmed in Europe, in Belgium and in Germany, and here one case in Essex and another in Nottingham. More cases have been noted in the Netherlands.
Early evidence suggests it is more transmissible and carries a higher risk of re-infection than other variants.
We won’t know that for sure for another couple of weeks and until further testing and monitoring are completed by the experts.
There have been of course repeated calls for wealthier countries who have fully vaccinated a significant proportion of their populations to share doses with others who haven’t.
A WHO target for 10 per cent of the world’s population to be fully vaccinated by the end of September was missed by dozens of countries, many of them in Africa.
The average for Africa is currently around 7 per cent fully vaccinated, with some countries as low as just 3 per cent.
This is the crux of the problems we might face in Brighton and Hove with the arrival of Omicron – our vaccination rates.
Our economy is resilient and, with government grants during lockdown, has remained steadfast safeguarding the lives and livelihoods of our residents.
Vaccine hesitancy in Brighton
After one year of the vaccination drive in the UK, we can now clearly see where the gaps in our defence lie – and Brighton and Hove is a glaring example.
Up to and including Friday (26 November) in the UK, 88.5 per cent of those over the age of 12 have had their first dose, 80.5 per cent have had their second dose and 29.8 per cent have had their booster or third dose.
However, the equivalent data for Brighton and Hove sits at 74.2 per cent for the first dose and 67.6 per cent for the second dose. That is 196,000 residents in the city who received a second dose.
Our population is around 290,000 so if we assume that some 35,000 are of school age, this leaves some 60,000 residents who have not yet had a first or second dose.
That’s a great deal of vaccine hesitancy that cannot be explained away by some dirty data held by GPs or the transient nature of our population, as the Green administration has previously tried to suggest.
If one fifth of our population is transient then we have a much bigger resilience challenge in the city than covid-19.
It’s time the administration got their act together and set an example by campaigning for the vaccination programme.
Time to lead from the front
In order to turn around Brighton and Hove’s low vaccination rates and overcome Brighton’s vaccine hesitancy, it may help if Green administration councillors, who represent many of the areas with the highest rates of vaccine hesitancy, are seen to be leading from the front in getting their own vaccines.
It remains unclear whether all councillors have had their vaccines and whether this in turn is playing a part in the council’s hesitancy in returning to full council meetings and in opening up the town halls to our residents. That’s what they are there for after all.
Green social media accounts, usually a-buzz with self-reflective posts, remain fairly quiet on this topic.
As we have seen in other places where vaccine hesitancy has been overcome, the role of local leadership is crucial.
This is more important now than ever given the potentially more transmissible nature of the omicron variant and certainly more important than public posturing about masks.
If anyone watched Trevor Phillips on Sunday on Sky News yesterday (28 November), they’ll know that even with mandatory mask wearing on the London Underground, very few people were complying – and I can confirm this from personal experience.
Fortunately for us in Brighton and Hove, the number of patients admitted by University Hospitals Sussex (which runs the Royal Sussex and the Royal Alex) was down 32 per cent in the seven days to Friday.
Let’s keep the pressure off the NHS by boosting our vaccinations in the city. Surely this is something all of us in the city can agree on.
Councillor Samer Bagaeen speaks for the Conservative group on the Brighton and Hove Health and Wellbeing Board.
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