'It is a health, not a political, issue' - Banbury GP who has had Covid thanks booster teams and explains why the undecided should be vaccinated

Banbury GP Dr Louise Cornwall has expressed gratitude to 'amazingly dedicated' booster teams and urges the undecided and sceptical to get vaccinated.

Tuesday, 4th January 2022, 12:22 pm

Dr Cornwall, of Hightown Surgery, said GPs from all town surgeries and their staff and volunteers had pulled out all the stops to ensure members of the public could get a booster if they wanted one. And she has explained why those undecided or sceptical about vaccination should accept the jabs.

The GP said those who have been undecided should get their first Covid vaccination. All booster clinics welcome people who want their first or second jab.

"For all of us in General Practice, this is a health - not a political - issue. We are doing this because we have seen patients with Covid, sadly known some die from it and we trust the science behind vaccination. All of us and our families chose to be vaccinated.

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Hightown Surgery, one of several in Banbury pulling out the stops to give booster jabs to those who want them

"We know that many younger, fit people may have only a mild illness with Covid (especially the Omicron variant) and that makes people question why bother to be vaccinated or boosted.

"My answer would be; even with the young and healthy, doctors can’t predict the few young, healthy patients who will get very unwell or even die. We, and you, don’t know if you’ll be one of the lucky ones or not. And yes, you can get Covid even if you are vaccinated – I had it four months after my second jab – but you will get a much milder illness.

"More importantly for the majority of younger people are the social and mental health effects of the pandemic - and vaccination is our best way back out of lifestyle restrictions."

Dr Cornwall said: "In terms of those who are totally unvaccinated, we have talked to our patients and we know some are frightened by the misinformation widely spread online and mistrustful of the system; some are suspicious about the speed of vaccine development and worried about whether their own health issues will be affected by the vaccine. And then there are those who are against vaccines on principle.

Banbury doctors urge patients to have their Covid vaccinations

"I don't think we can expect to change all of these people's minds, but what we can do is offer them the advice and information, hopefully from a position of trust. Many local health professionals (including GPs) volunteered to be part of the AstraZeneca vaccine trial because we wanted to help make sure that the vaccines were safe, efficient, and thoroughly tested before being offered to the public.

"Having other health conditions is an even better reason to have the jab(s), not avoid it, as Covid infection is likely to make you more ill if you have existing medical issues. The same is true if you are pregnant – the bigger risk is not being vaccinated and becoming very unwell with Covid."

"We are grateful to our amazingly dedicated staff and volunteers, who are exhausted but still stepping up, yet again, to help protect our population running booster clinics," she said.

"Clinics at some practices are being arranged on an ongoing basis, so Banbury Guardian readers should look out for text invitations and book through those links when offered. Patients can also book through the National Booking Service and will be offered a variety of locations that way. We appreciate the frustration of having to travel and suggest you keep looking to see where is available."

Vaccinations can be booked on the National Booking Service though some Banbury surgeries are offering walk up jabs on their Facebook pages. Picture by Getty

Dr Cornwall said GPs were grateful to patients for understanding the extraordinary situation surrounding the Covid pandemic and only contacting surgeries with urgent problems during the 'overwhelmingly busy and challenging time for practices'.

Dr Cornwall said her own surgery clinics were run mostly by admin and clerical staff on their days off or weekends, to limit disruption to usual patient services.

"A loyal band of volunteers, including retired colleagues and people who have specially trained up to vaccinate, have taken part. And another band of volunteers, including family, friends, members of Inner Wheel and our Patient Participation Group, have been marshalling, booking in and generally supporting outside and inside the building," she said.

"We have mostly done booked patients (our own and another Banbury surgery) but have opened up to walk-ins when we had unfilled slots."

A typical booster vaccination clinic day will see staff arrive at 7.30am to set-up and start mixing vaccine, as preparing the vaccine is a complicated and critical process. The rest of the staff arrive by 8.30am and clinic starts at 9am.

Vaccinations take place at a rate of 165 patients per hour with shifts that include a 30 minute lunch break. Over 1,000 patients are usually seen in a day which, after walk-ins, may finish at around 4pm. The very last dose (as vials contain six doses, so sometimes there is spare left) may be taken by a GP to a housebound patient on the way home.

"Not a drop is wasted," said Dr Cornwall.

Until recently, Hightown, Woodlands and Windrush have had to vaccinate at Grimsbury Community Centre, as the regulations around the Pfizer vaccine dictated a 15-minute observation period for all patients. All three practices operate out of cramped premises so were unable to accommodate patients when waiting time was included.

Since the 15 minute observation period has been suspended, more practices have been able to run clinics in their own buildings. Surgeries are trying to operate a fast, one-way system that minimises patient time indoors and maximises social distancing. Patients with severe mobility problems are being given their jabs in their cars.

Hightown ran another clinic on Sunday, January 2 with 1,000 appointments booked for patients of Hightown, Woodlands and Windrush surgeries. Dr Cornwall said details of their walk-in opportunities will be posted on Facebook and Next Door at the end of this week.

Elsewhere in town Banbury Cross Health Centre is on the National Booking System and has devoted a floor of their building to vaccinations. They vaccinate most days with a full time Covid team, with volunteers including their Patient Participation Group, Royal Voluntary Service and Rotary Club. They have been offering about 1400 doses per week but gave 3500 during a single week before Christmas.

Woodlands Surgery has been running in very similar way to Hightown but continued to use Grimsbury Community Centre next door to its practice.

Windrush Surgery are vaccinating smaller numbers of their own patients throughout the week, in their practice.

All practices use a text invite service called AccuBook to make booking quicker and easier. Patients are asked to respond on those links. Those without mobiles should be contacted by telephone by their practice.

"Our experience is that younger people, especially 16-21-year-olds seem to ignore texts so we would encourage parents to ask them if they’ve received a text from their practice. We are especially keen to offer first doses to those who have yet to be vaccinated at all, as cases are rising so rapidly now," said Dr Cornwall.

"If you are needle phobic or have other worries about having the vaccination, please be assured we are used to dealing with patients who are anxious and we do understand how difficult this is for some people," she said.

Omicron is now the dominant strain in Oxfordshire and cases have grown at an alarming rate, said Dr Cornwall.

"Although it is frustrating that we're needing boosters to keep up our immunity to Covid, this has long been the case for other more established vaccines; we have three vaccinations for hepatitis B and boosters for things like Tetanus, Diptheria and Polio which almost all parents accept for their children already. Thankfully, none of us see patients with polio now, as a result.

"In addition to the vaccination improving individual risk, vaccination helps reduce the risk to others and the impact on services. Our out-of-hours GP service has already been impacted by staff shortages related to Covid. Readers will know of the effect in London on transport and other services."

Dr David Chapman, Clinical Chair of NHS Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “In Oxfordshire we have offered the booster jab to everyone currently eligible, thanks to the hard work of NHS staff, our council colleagues and volunteers over the last few weeks. More people will become eligible over the next few weeks so do remember that you can pre-book your booster from 61 days since your second dose."

Up-to-date offers for walk in sites can be found on the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group website here or book on the National Booking Service website here.