Our Director of Quality and System Performance and registered nurse, Liam Williams, shares his thoughts on getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and the personal and community benefits.
Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with some of the SCW call handlers about the fantastic job they have done in supporting the uptake of COVID-19 vaccination.
In preparing to meet with them - one year and seven million calls since we set the service up - I wanted to ensure that I reflected on their invaluable contribution to the population’s health in our discussion, as well as of individual citizens.
Being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 benefits the individual and, for many, this very personal consequence will be enough to encourage vaccination. For others, existing evidence and communication from concerned NHS organisations are not always enough to persuade vaccination uptake. This outcome can be quite demoralising for our call handlers, who have facilitated a significant number of difficult conversations.
We read a lot about the pressures the NHS is under at the moment, with General Practice, NHS111 and 999 services all facing unprecedented demand. Emergency departments are struggling to safely manage people to discharge or admit, and hospitals are struggling with their critical role in diagnosing and treating patients with complex healthcare needs, including late-stage cancers.
In wave 1 and to a certain extent in wave 2, we all understood that we stayed at home to protect the NHS. I don’t think we are as certain now about our role as individual citizens in protecting our communities and the NHS.
Vaccinations reduce the risk of acquiring infections that can cause us to be sick. It doesn’t mean we are all 100% immune and no longer need to take personal protective measures for ourselves and the people around us. Understanding the impact is most effective at the population level, and we have all seen how the UK needs to work hard to ensure the early gains in vaccine uptake are recovered.
There is another important outcome of vaccinations that we should all consider. If I am infected by the COVID-19 virus, I may become unwell, I might need support from my local pharmacy or GP, but I am very unlikely to need hospitalisation. Even if I do need a specialist medical review, I am unlikely to be admitted and even less likely to require an ICU bed if I am.
My body has the optimal chance of dealing with a related viral infection effectively with both the COVID-19 and seasonal flu vaccination. Equally important, these vaccines prevent me from using services that would otherwise be available to patients presenting with cancer, complex long-term conditions, or acute trauma. It means that the number of isolation beds available is maximised and, critically, fewer ICU beds are required for COVID-19. The fewer of us that require ICU beds, the more likely it is a hospital can maintain a coronavirus-free ICU. The less exposed the ICU beds are, the more complex surgeries can be scheduled, the more cancer patients we can treat, and the quicker we enable the NHS to start reducing the backlog.
A safe vaccine delivered by a tax-funded healthcare system operating amid a pandemic is a huge privilege. One that we could all consider repaying by booking our vaccination and ensuring that the rest of society has the best possible chance of gaining access to cancer and complex surgery as early as possible.