Column by Dominic Harrison, director of public health Blackburn with Darwen

This week, new research is providing stark evidence on the higher relative risks of hospitalisation and death from Covid among the non-vaccinated, particularly the over 60s.

Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann informed the BBC that “unvaccinated adults aged under 50 are almost 11 times more likely to need hospitalisation from Covid if they become infected and unvaccinated and adults over 50 are four times more likely to die from Covid than the unvaccinated”.

The UK National Covid Actuaries Group reported that at ages 60 – 69, Covid admission rates for the unvaccinated are 15 per 100,000 per week, which is 70 times higher than the rate for the vaccinated. The over 70s difference in risk of hospital admission will be even greater.

Covid in patient admissions to East Lancashire Hospitals Trust have fallen slightly this week and on Tuesday the number stood at 48. Nearly two thirds of these patients were unvaccinated and over half were over 70 years of age. Astonishingly, Blackburn with Darwen still has 910 residents over 70 who are not fully vaccinated.

A very small number of these may be exempt for clinical reasons but the vast majority will not be.

Based on this evidence, my strong advice to anyone over 60 and not yet vaccinated is to get jabbed as soon as possible. My advice to their families and friends is to nag them to get jabbed as soon as possible. The unvaccinated over 60s are at exceptional and growing risk of hospitalisation and avoidable death over the coming winter months.

The sharp rise in coronavirus cases we have seen over the past three weeks in many European countries continued this week. Denmark, Italy, Croatia, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands are all seeing a ‘rapid onset wave’ with France reporting a 63% rise in seven day case rates on Tuesday.

The government in London are hoping that the same rise will not happen in the UK over the next five weeks to Christmas. Stormont ministers in Northern Ireland have made a slightly different judgement. Northern Ireland case rates lead the UK countries and this week they have triggered ‘work from home if you can’ guidance, judging that this is the best way to ensure any lockdown would be avoided over Christmas.

As we ended last week, the Covid case rate in Blackburn with Darwen was at 321 per 100,000, still well behind the English case rate of 384. But both were up 11% on the previous week's rates. By Tuesday of this week, Blackburn with Darwen’s seven day case rates was up by 16% and England up by 17%.

If we are going to see a European style surge in cases before Christmas, this is exactly what we might expect to see at this point. For England, government seem willing to take the risk ‘it will not happen here’. They are gambling that further Plan B type controls are just not necessary.

If we lose that gamble the costs are high. As the German Health Minister warned this week, “By the end of this winter everyone may either be vaccinated, recovered or dead”. The evidence suggests that this warning could now be particularly important for anyone over 60 in the UK.

Please. Everyone. If you are eligible, get your Covid vaccination as soon as you can.