Royal Preston Covid patients 'more seriously ill' if not fully vaccinated

The sickest patients currently in hospital with Covid in Central Lancashire are those who have not yet been fully vaccinated.

Sunday, 27th June 2021, 2:51 pm
Updated Sunday, 27th June 2021, 5:12 pm

That is the warning from a senior medic at the Royal Preston Hospital, who is urging people not to “take their foot off the pedal” in the ongoing fight against the virus - and says that there should be a rush for residents to get both of their jabs as soon as possible.

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Dr. Mohammed Munavvar, a consultant respiratory physician, was speaking after seeing a recent surge in admissions to the Covid ward where he leads a team which has become wearily familiar with the waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Dr. Mohammed Munavvar treated the first Covid patients to arrive at the Royal Preston early last year - and has been on the frontline ever since

Just under a fortnight ago, the trust that runs both the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospital saw a four-month high in the number of Covid patients being treated, after the figure rose from just four to 65 in less than three weeks.

There has since seen a slight reduction, with as-yet-unpublished data showing the tally hovering in the mid-50s late last week. However, Dr. Munavvar says that the rapid increase in hospitalisations seen since the start of June - while still far short of the Central Lancashire peak of 193 in December - shows the potential for the situation to “get worse if we’re not careful”.

He also says he is seeing “younger and fitter” people becoming more gravely unwell as part of the the latest spike in cases - which he believes could be a function of the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant of the virus, but also the fact that the youngest age groups only became eligible for their first jabs in recent weeks.

“Considering the number of infections [in the community], the proportion of people coming into hospital is still better than we had in the first and second waves - but there are still people coming in who are seriously ill," Dr. Munavvar said.

“The vast majority [of those] are people who haven't received both doses of the vaccine - so it is even more important for people to get vaccinated as a matter of urgency.

“I think in some circles, people seem to [be] thinking: ‘Yes, we’ve achieved 50 or 60 percent [complete] vaccination’ - but that may not be sufficient, particularly with the Delta variant. We need to increase it to a much higher level and until we get to that stage, we should absolutely take all precautions to prevent transmission,”

As the Lancashire Post revealed earlier this month, an internal memo sent to LTH staff on 15th June noted that 42 percent of recent Covid patients treated by the trust had received both doses of their vaccine.

Dr. Munavvar says that in some cases, that will be due to the fact that the necessary two-to-three-week period had not yet elapsed to allow time for the second jab to take effect. However, he added that the most important distinction to draw was in the different severity of disease between those who had been double vaccinated and others.

“Although people who have had both jabs are coming into hospital, they are not as seriously ill as those who have not had both doses of the vaccine. The most seriously ill patients are those who haven't had any vaccine."

Only where there were significant individual risk factors at play had anyone ended up in intensive care at the Royal Preston after having had both jabs, Dr. Munavvar said.

Walk-in vaccination appointments have been made available across Central Lancashire in recent weeks, where people can turn up for first and second doses - provided at least weeks has elapsed between the two. All over-18s are now eligible for a vaccine.

Preston currently has the second-lowest take-up of first vaccine doses in Lancashire - at 72.6 percent of the eligible population. Second doses have been received by 55.5 percent of residents. That compares to respective figures of 83.2 and 63.3 percent in Chorley and 84.8 and 66.1 percent in South Ribble.

Public Health England published research earlier this month suggesting that just one dose of a vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalisation as a result of the Delta variant by 75 percent - and by 94 percent after two jabs.

Preston and South Ribble have both seen Covid case rates rise in recent weeks to reach their highest levels since early February and, in Chorley, since mid-January. While the weekly rate of growth in cases in Preston and South Ribble has significantly slowed in recent days, Chorley’s continues to increase rapidly - up 45 percent in the week to 21st June.

Meanwhile, Dr. Munavvar says that the Covid safety measures that have come to dominate life over the past 15 months - including social distancing, use of masks and strict self-isolation if contacted by NHS Test and Trace - should continue “for the foreseeable future” amongst both the vaccinated and unvaccinated, so as to stem the spread of the Delta variant.

He is also appealing to people to make use of freely-available lateral flow tests, in order to ensure they are not unknowingly transmitting the virus - especially if they are attending gatherings over the summer. And the doctor is taking his own advice.

“That’s what I’m recommending to people who have invited me to some events - I’ve said that if everybody attending would take a lateral flow test, it would make it safer for our family [and] our contacts.”

For Dr. Munavvar - who has been a consultant at the Royal Preston for 22 years and treated the very first Covid patients to arrive at the hospital last year - the pandemic has been a time like no other during his career. He says that the team caring for the Covid sick - from nurses “working around the clock” to physiotherapists and porters - has found it “exhausting and traumatic”.

It is one of the reasons he wants “everybody’s help” to head off the current wave before it worsens.

“We are used to getting people better - but with this particular condition, there have been situations where we have been totally helpless. Having done everything we could possibly do, still people [are] deteriorating and dying.

“The inability [for] patients to [see] their relatives has been the most traumatic part.

“But when we see patients discharged after getting them better, that gives us enormous satisfaction - and keeps us going.”

As he and his team confront the latest challenge posed by this pandemic, they continue to need all the inspiration they can get.

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