Loading...

‘Omicron is spreading quite quickly - we’re worried about the unvaccinated’ says Manchester public health boss

Regional public health boss Prof Kate Ardern reveals what is being done to tackle the Omicron variant.

A regional public health boss has urged Greater Manchester residents to get vaccinated against Covid-19 as the Omicron variant spreads across the country.

Prof Kate Ardern, lead director of public health for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) for health protection and emergency planning and response, joined Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham to speak to the media on Wednesday afternoon (1 December).

Sign up to our ManchesterWorld Today newsletter

She said she was most concerned about people who have not yet had both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine as they are currently unprotected heading into the winter.

She also said the Omicron variant appears to be spreading quite quickly, with more than 20 confirmed cases only a week or so after the mutation came to notice - including two probable cases in Bolton.

What did Prof Ardern say about vaccination against Covid-19?

Prof Ardern said her greatest concern was for residents who are yet to receive their first two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine rather than those who are yet to get a booster.

She said as the eligibility criteria had only just changed to allow people to get a booster three months after their second dose rather than six it was too early to worry about people not having had the additional shot.

She said: “It’s really important to say that if you haven’t completed your first and second doses nobody is going to tell you off, so please book it and come forward.

“That is the group we are really worried about, that haven’t completed the primary vaccination course.

“They are unprotected and with Omicron having arisen you are more at risk if you are not vaccinated.

“It’s really important to complete your course as well as encouraging people to get their booster.”

Prof Ardern acknowledged that rolling out a full booster programme quickly will be a challenge for the NHS, but says vaccination against Covid-19 has been designated “an absolutely priority” by the health service.

She added: “Me and my colleagues in local government will do everything we can to assist with that.”

What is the latest understanding of the Omicron variant?

Prof Ardern said she thought Omicron was spreading quite rapidly in the UK and it also seems to be more transmissible than the Delta variant.

She also said there is no evidence yet that it is more virulent.

However, she stressed that it is still early days and the mutation will be monitored closely over the coming days.

Prof Ardern said: “Omicron appears to have higher infection rates and to have some ability to reinfect people who have acquired immunity by infection or vaccination.

“We only heard about it a week or so ago and suddenly we’ve got 22 cases. It is quite a diffuse geographical spread, with cases in London and the South East, the East Midlands, Scotland and now the North West.

“That’s quite a quick spread and that is in keeping with what we’ve seen in South Africa and elsewhere.

“We need to look at how it is spreading in the UK to help us understand what other measures we need to take to tackle it.”

Prof Ardern said vaccine manufacturers were currently tweaking the existing vaccines and this was one reason it was important to follow public health measures, to buy time for this work to be done.

However, she said there is evidence of good protection against Omicron from the existing vaccines.

What work is being done to tackle the Omicron variant?

Prof Ardern paid tribute to scientists in South Africa who quickly identified the Omicron variant and then shared their findings with the rest of the world.

She said a number of cases from across the North West are currently being investigated to see if they are the mutation.

Public health teams in Bolton, where two “highly probable” cases have been identified, have been testing the individuals and their households and carrying out enhanced contact tracing.

PCR tests from pillar one of the testing programme are being sent for genomic sequencing and waste water is also being tested.

A need to keep following public health measures

Prof Ardern said it was important that people continue observing public health measures such as “hands, face, space, ventilate” and wearing masks in enclosed public spaces.

She also said people should be doing lateral flow testing twice a week, particularly if they are heading out and socialising.

She said: “Omicron is a very timely reminder that Covid-19 has other surprises for us. This virus mutates very rapidly and we have to respect the fact that it does.”