Around 30 per cent of care home staff in the Western Trust have decided against getting the Covid vaccine, it can be revealed.
The Derry News asked the Western Trust and Department of Health (DoH) to provide figures detailing vaccine uptake amongst all health and social care staff.
The Trust initially said it did ‘not have the reporting capacity to provide this information at this time’ while the DoH did not respond to requests for information.
However, the Western Trust has now commented on vaccine uptake amongst care home residents and staff.
It says local numbers reflect the pattern across the country.
Dr Bob Brown, Executive Director of Nursing/Primary Care and Older People's services in the Western Trust said: “Over 90% of residents and over 70% of staff in care homes across Northern Ireland have been vaccinated.
“The Western Trust is in keeping with these regional figures and we continue to promote the importance of the vaccine for all care home staff as a means of protecting themselves, the residents they care for and their families.”
There are around 5,000 care home residents and staff in the Western Trust area which takes in Derry, Omagh and Fermanagh.
Care home residents were in ‘Priority Group 1’ for the vaccination programme and began receiving their first doses from December 14 in the Western Trust area.
All residents and staff have been vaccinated at least once.
At present there are five Covid outbreaks in care homes across the Western Trust area and 44 active country-wide.
Since the beginning of 2021, there have been at least 13 Covid related deaths in Derry City and Strabane care homes bringing the total to 41.
Across Northern Ireland, there have been 147 Covid related deaths in care homes since the turn of the year, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).
Those figures omit January 1, therefore the number of care home deaths in 2021 is likely to be higher.
The overall Covid death toll in care homes since the start of the pandemic is now 747 with many more care home residents dying in a hospital setting.
Dr Brown said there will continue to be a risk of Covid-19 outbreaks while the vaccination programme is delivered, and it will be some time before it is completed.
“Until more research has been undertaken we must all remain vigilant as it is possible that a person who has been vaccinated may still develop COVID-19 or pass the virus on to another person. “Therefore we encourage all members of the public, our staff and those who are particularly vulnerable to the virus and their carers to maintain strict adherence to the government guidelines around social distancing, hand cleanliness and always wear a face mask in public.”
He added: “We are delighted with the progress of our vaccination programme across all parts of the Trust area, and we continue every day to work in partnership with those who manage and work in care homes, supported living and other community facilities, to advise and support them as they work to maintain high standards of care and service for local people.”
Speaking to the Derry News, local GP and BMA Northern Ireland council chair Dr Tom Black said everyone who can, should be vaccinated, to achieve what is referred to as ‘herd immunity’ – unless they have a ‘very good reason not to get it’.
Herd immunity is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection.
The goal is for at least 70-80 per cent of the population to be vaccinated.
Dr Black explained: “We would certainly encourage healthcare workers to get the vaccination because it won’t just protect them, it will protect patients and clients.
“That principle would also hold true for nursing home staff, that it would be sensible that they should protect themselves and get the vaccine to protect their residents.”
However, he added: “It can’t be made compulsory, because that is not the sort of society that we live in.
“And it’s possible that some of the care home workers are keen to get the vaccination from their own doctor and they may well wait to get it that way.”
Dr Black made it clear that there are very few reasons which preclude people from getting the vaccine other than a ‘specific allergy to components of the vaccine’ or a ‘current illness’.
“Certainly within the practice here, if we call 100 people, 99 of them turn up. There’s been a phenomenal response to GP vaccination programmes.”
The Derry doctor said he does not believe uptake amongst care home staff would be reflective of workers in hospitals and acute care.
“It’s different from homes where residents will be well and won’t be out and about, in hospitals you’re actually bringing in patients with Covid, so staff in hospitals would be much keener to protect themselves and obviously their patients,” he said.
“I would suspect there will be very few healthcare workers declining the vaccine.”
He expects numbers amongst the general population to exceed the 80 per cent needed.
Even if everybody gets vaccinated, he said, it will never offer full protection but the key is to get as many people vaccinated as possible.
“That way you’ll stop the virus moving about, the only thing better than vaccination is stopping transmission.
“Get herd immunity up there to a level where the virus doesn’t have anyone to pass it on to.
“We would encourage everyone to get it, that’s how you protect yourself, your granny and your next door neighbour and your co-worker.
“As people get used to it and see that no harm comes to them I think vaccination rates will go up.”
He says Derry people are smarter and more resistant to misinformation than some other cities - as evidenced during previous vaccination programmes - and that leads to higher uptake.
Efforts have to be maintained to keep the infection down in order to reduce hospital admissions, Dr Black concluded.
The Western Trust vaccination programme states that all adults should be vaccinated by September.
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