By Professor Dominic Harrison, public health director Blackburn with Darwen Council

BLACKBURN with Darwen data to March 31 shows the Covid rate continuing to fall with a recorded rate of 90.2 cases per 100,000 of the population.

The borough is second highest in Lancashire, with Preston at 92.2. It is slightly behind neighbouring Bolton at 94.6 and boroughs who share similar Covid risk profiles, with Oldham for instance at 95.7 per 100,000.

We should not read too much into small daily or weekly changes. As rates get lower, even a small number of cases can make the case rate rise and fall with greater frequency. What is important now is that we have an overall continued downward trajectory and decreasing hospital admissions and deaths.

There were no Covid-related deaths of Blackburn with Darwen residents on March 31. Covid-related hospital admissions for the whole of Pennine Lancashire stayed stable that week at three or less per day and in the week ending March 31 the rates have continued to fall generally across the whole of the North-West Region, with the regional R value now between 0.8 and 1.0.

The most dramatic shift in the epidemiology is in the rates by age. For the over 50s the rates of new cases (not just hospitalisations and deaths) are falling faster now than in the under 50s, with rates of between 40 and 70 per 100,000 for most five year cohorts – i.e. 50 to 55, 55 to 60 etc. The five year cohorts of those under 50 are generally about double that rate - averaging around 150 per 100,000.

Some of this effect may be due to the fact that older people have been more cautious than younger people about avoiding Covid transmission risks in public spaces or through social contact. It may also be that older people, more likely to be retired, have had a greater capacity to avoid front line exposure in employment where younger people will have been more unavoidably exposed to the virus.

But there is now increasing evidence that this rapid decrease in the rate of cases in over 50s is likely also to be, in part, a vaccination effect. New research, not yet fully peer reviewed, from Israel’s vaccination programme suggests that ‘vaccination not only protects individual vaccinees but also provides cross-protection to unvaccinated individuals in the community’.

They showed that rates were much lower in school aged children in communities with high adult vaccination rates. This may be a particularly important research finding as we get to the end of the summer, as schools re-start the academic year in September 2021.

If we don’t have vaccination rates in the 18 to 50 year age groups more than 90 per cent by then, we may still have higher rates in school aged children, risking a further period of disruption of much needed education.

Vaccination is a personal choice ­— one that could save our own life. But each of our personal vaccination choices has implications for society as a whole. To get back to a full and safe life we need as many people to ‘choose life’ as possible.