Anyone over the age of 50 who isn’t vaccinated against Covid-19 is “running the gauntlet” of the virus, a senior medic has warned.
In a stark message on the first anniversary of the start of the vaccine programme here, respiratory consultant Dr Wendy Anderson said: “By spring, everyone will be vaccinated, recovered from Covid, or dead.
“I go down to see Covid patients in the emergency department and the first thing I ask them is whether they’ve been vaccinated.
“Those who aren’t vaccinated are very offended, they tell me it’s ‘their right’, but I’m asking for a clinical reason, because if they aren’t vaccinated the chances are I’ll be signing their death certificate a week later.
“It’s excruciating to have the same conversation time and time again, and it’s not the way I want to win an argument — but that’s the reality.”
Now that three cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed in Northern Ireland, Dr Anderson believes getting vaccinated is as important as ever.
“I think we could see a higher and narrower peak and given that it is coming on top of the normal winter spike, it’s going to be difficult to cope with,” she said.
“It’s very difficult to predict what exactly is going to happen as it is possible Omicron could affect a different demographic and in a different way.
“There are already signs that it may be a real problem for pregnant women.
“We could have done with holding Omicron off until March or April, we really needed to be offering the booster to the over 40s before we were ready for Omicron.
“There weren’t enough beds available before Covid so bed occupancy would running at 105% over the winter so if you add just 10% additional Covid patients, we will be in real trouble.
“If you want to have Christmas with relatives, make sure everyone is vaccinated and keep numbers low.
“If you’re going to have a drinks party on Christmas morning, don’t do it inside, have bacon butties and coffee outside instead, play it safe and keep your heads down.
“It’s so important now that as many people as possible are vaccinated and get their boosters.”
She said specific unvaccinated groups, including anyone over 50, pregnant women, and people who are obese and over 40, are most at risk.
“If you get Covid in the third trimester of pregnancy, it’s a complete nightmare,” she explained.
“We had one woman who didn’t get vaccinated because she was pregnant and her husband got Covid and ended up in intensive care.
“Then she got it quite bad and they had no one to help them out, so the baby had to go into foster care.
“Look at Boris Johnson: he thought of himself as a virile and healthy human being who wasn’t under any particular threat, but men of his age and his BMI (body mass index) are at risk.
“Covid has been a war and last winter we were sending people into combat with very little protection and very limited weaponry.
“This year we have the ability to protect our staff, and the majority of people vulnerable to the virus have been shielded by the vaccine.
“Deaths since we have had vaccine are dramatically reduced to less than 10% of those who would have died in the first wave.
“Going forward, the number of deaths will be largely determined by the number of vulnerable people left unvaccinated or unboosted.
“We do have more treatments than we had, but the best way to avoid admission, respiratory support, intensive care and death from the virus is to get the vaccine, and the booster, when it’s offered.
“We lose two surgical lists for every day someone is in intensive care with Covid, and they can be there for months at a time.
“When someone is in intensive care and it wasn’t preventable, you can live with that. But it’s so frustrating when it is preventable.
“The best way to release resources to allow the NHS to deliver its normal winter function, and to maintain cancer care, is to avoid going to hospital and ICU by taking the vaccine.”
Dr Anderson put the recent drop in Covid-19 inpatients down to the booster programme, although she said it will be some time before the number of critically ill Covid patients also falls.
“In Northern Ireland, we started the booster programme a few months too late and we started to get in a bit of trouble,” she said.
“Most of the over-80s have now had boosters but that hasn’t really affected the intensive care beds because over-80s don’t go to intensive care.
“It is the 50, 60 and 70-year-olds, and once they get their booster, that will make a difference in the ICUs.”