By Dominic Harrison, public health director Blackburn with Darwen Council

THIS week the total UK deaths from Covid-19 reached the grim milestone of 100,000.
As a unitary council, Blackburn with Darwen has about 150,000 residents. We had our first confirmed hospital case on March 13. Up to January 20 the borough has recorded 15,259 Covid cases and a total of 322 deaths within 28 days of a diagnosis.

We know that Pennine Lancashire is an area of ‘stubborn transmission’- that is it has a continuing risk of higher Covid-19 rates than the rest of the country. So we need to make sure absolutely everyone is vaccinated, as soon as possible. This is the most effective way to reduce hospitalisations and deaths. It gives us the best chance to exit the pandemic at the same rate as everywhere else.

It looks like the third wave of Covid-19 across Pennine Lancashire will have peaked somewhere between January 8 and 15. Many of the East Lancashire local authority areas now have weekly reductions in case rates of five to 15 per cent.

The new Covid-19 variant as a percentage of all cases in Blackburn with Darwen has risen from 70 to 80 per cent this week. The new variant is 50 to 70 per cent more infectious and whilst the previous Covid-19 virus was likely to infect 11 per cent of close contacts on average, this rate rises to 15 per cent with the new variant.

In the last week, Blackburn with Darwen has seen about 900 new Covid cases. At least one per cent of this cohort has a very high chance of requiring hospital care. East Lancashire Hospitals Trust, whose catchment area covers six local authority areas, is coping well with very high numbers of patients with a Covid diagnoses. This level of high demand is likely to continue for another four to six weeks.

Lancashire is one of the best performing areas in the north of England for vaccination rates. It has now completed almost all of the over-80s cohort along with significant numbers of front-line health and care workers. However, there are three groups who may miss their vaccination when they get their invitation. These are: those who refuse vaccination, those who book their vaccination slot but don’t turn up, and those who are invited for vaccination but don’t book it.

It is critical that this list of those who miss their slot, for whatever reason, are chased up. Councils will work closely with the local NHS to make sure no one is missed out, forgotten or lost.

Whilst everyone has a human right to refuse the vaccine, please remember, choosing not to be vaccinated has consequences for your family, your friends and those you may never know. Without vaccination, you will be a risk to yourself, to others and to the wider NHS.

All lives are precious. For any of us, having the Covid vaccination now, could really be the ‘chance of a lifetime’. Please take it.