Just as we had started to relax and get our lives ‘back to normal’, 31 July 2023 saw new Covid-19 variants classified in the UK: Covid ‘Eris EG.5.1’ is out there.
Hospital admissions are spiking, as a consequence of the poor summer weather (meaning that we have spent more time indoors) and waning immunity. The new mutation, Eris, is currently the most prevalent variant in the UK: according to the Zoe Health Study, as at 22 August 2023 there were 940,847 active cases in England, with 76,245 new cases per day (as predicted from results of PCR – polymerase chain reaction – and LFT – lateral flow – tests).
Aware of the importance of acting before a serious crisis arrives, in France the government has just announced a campaign for early Covid-19 booster vaccinations, which will be offered with this year’s flu vaccine. Their programme is to be accessible and free to everyone. They are focusing urgently on the at-risk groups, including those over 65 in that category; but everyone can choose to have the vaccination.
Meanwhile, in August the UK government announced a vaccination programme for the autumn. The number of vulnerable groups have been reduced and the lower age limit has been raised from 50 to 65. This is in spite of the existing fears for the ability of the NHS to cope, and the likely strain on hospitals this winter.
The government now suggests that if you want a vaccination and do not fall into any of their revised ‘priority’ groups, you can choose to pay for your immunisation – at a cost of more than £100 a shot.
Both Moderna and Pfizer are ready to offer vaccinations at private healthcare centres this autumn. Some businesses will be willing to pay for their staff to have vaccinations. However, it does raise the spectre of yet further health inequality for those on much lower pay and, in many instances, in jobs that cannot be done from home in the event of sickness. It is hard to see them finding the money for vaccinations in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. Statistically this group has been the worst-affected by both Covid and long Covid as it is.
No evidence of ‘levelling up’ here.
The UK does simply not compare well with our neighbours on the other side of the Channel when it comes to managing the health risks for its citizens.