Constituency matters… a weekly column by the Member of Parliament for Folkestone and Hythe, Damian Collins 16 December 2021.
As you will have seen in the news, the Chief Medical Officer has raised the UK COVID Alert to Level four due to the rapid spread of the new highly infectious Omicron variant, with cases of this strain doubling every two to three days.
Folkestone and Hythe is no exception to this wider national picture, and whilst we do not have the specific number of Omicron cases in the constituency, the overall number of COVID cases increased by 6% in the last week, with an average of 567.4 weekly cases per 100,000 people. Given that the population of the Folkestone and Hythe District is approximately 112,000, that means that locally there have been over 600 new cases in the past week.
We know that Omicron is very infectious, more so than other variants, but we do not yet know how severely it will affect people. That is why I have supported the government’s introduction of measures to restrict the spread of the virus. Some of these, like showing proof of vaccination or a lateral flow test, in order to enter a large football stadium were in place earlier in the year. I hope their return will be short lived.
This is why the Government has also launched the Omicron Emergency Boost programme, a national mission to increase the resilience of the UK, and importantly the National Health Service, by offering every eligible adult their booster jab before the end of the year. As part of this effort, over forty military planning teams have been deployed across the nation to increase the number of vaccination sites available, vaccination clinics will have their opening hours extended, and people are being encouraged to sign up as NHS volunteers to assist in the rollout.
This doubling down on vaccine deployment combined with guidance to work from home if you can, and to wear face coverings in crowded public spaces – such as on public transport – will maximise our community’s protection against the virus.
The good news is that data from the UK Health Security Agency suggests that booster vaccines provide a good level of protection against the new variant – preventing around 75% of people from getting any symptoms. So, if you are eligible to get a booster dose, and especially if you have not yet had the vaccine at all, please book an appointment as soon as you can.
High demand for boosters
Of course, demand will be very high, particularly before Christmas, and even with the huge efforts being made not everyone will be able to have the vaccine immediately, and so if you are having difficulty in booking an appointment at your ideal time and location, NHS officials have urged for patience and recommend re-visiting the NHS website often, as appointment numbers will increase over the coming days.
Last Friday, I visited the Folca vaccination centre in Folkestone and spoke to Dr Tuan Nguyen and his team to learn more about the rollout of the booster vaccine locally. In the past month alone, the Folca vaccination centre has seen an 81% increase in the number of vaccines administered; this is their busiest period to date, with even more people receiving jabs than the beginning of the year and peak months of COVID. Rather impressively, the Folkestone and Hythe constituency has the highest booster vaccine uptake in Kent. This is an incredibly impressive achievement, and it would not have been possible without the skill, support, and dedication of the clinicians, administrators, and volunteers at the site. Thank you to everyone involved.