“We’re half-way up Everest”: Public health director hails borough’s 'phenomenal' vaccine roll-out

Date published: 26 April 2021

Rochdale’s director of public health has hailed the borough’s ‘phenomenal’ vaccine roll-out – but warned it’s not time to throw caution to the wind just yet.

Andrea Fallon has praised residents for ‘rising to the challenge’, with huge take up seeing more than 100,000 people having their first Covid jab.

Cases in Rochdale have been falling steadily and consistently since hitting a peak in early January as the nation suffered a post-Christmas spike.

Data for the week to April 21 shows the borough now has an infection rate of 31.5 cases per 100,000 – the lowest since last summer.

That comes off the back of a 39% week-on-week drop, demonstrating that the borough continues to head in the right direction.

For a place that at times was among the worst hit in the country, it has been some time since things have looked so hopeful.

Ms Fallon told the Local Democracy Reporting Service the borough was now in a ‘great place’ and the vaccine programme was beginning to take effect.

She said: “We have had a phenomenal response to the vaccine programme in Rochdale. I have to say, our residents have risen to this. It’s been amazing.

 “We have had 100,000 people in our borough come forward for their first dose. The total population is only just over 200,000.”

She added that more than 90% in the top four priority groups – including all those over 70, the clinically extremely vulnerable – had received their first jabs.

Meanwhile ‘good progress’ is being made with second doses for those in care homes, where two thirds of the 93% immunised have had both jabs.

Ms Fallon says the use of pop-up clinics and ‘consistent’ expert messaging to ‘bust the myths’ around vaccination have all helped achieve a high take-up rate.

“When we started the vaccination programme we could see we were still at the bottom of Everest; to see we are half-way up is just amazing,” she said.

“I’m really proud I work in Rochdale with amazing colleagues and residents who have really risen to the challenge.”

And while she says it is difficult to attribute the drop in cases to a specific intervention, both lockdown and the vaccination programme were having an effect.

“Essentially this is about sticking with it – sticking with the measures we have in place – remembering hands-face-space and social distancing and making it a part of life,” she said.

“We all want to get back to normal – what we have to do is help people to do that.

“A good example of that is when we have an opportunity to go and socialise, that we do that in the safest possible way.”

Restrictions on socialising and hospitality were eased earlier this month as the country reached ‘Step 2’ of its ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown.

And Ms Fallon says it is down to everyone to ensure things continue to head in the right direction.

“We have pubs and restaurants open on April 12 and the onus isn’t just on those establishments to keep customers safe, the onus is on us to help those businesses to stay open.

“It’s about all of us working together, I would say, and making sure we keep that rate down as much as we possibly can.”

She admits a ‘bounce-back’ of the virus can’t be ruled out, but believes our destiny is largely in our own hands.

“It could happen, we don’t know, we can’t exactly predict – but summer’s coming, we will all be outdoors a bit more and that should protect us.

“Essentially, stick with it – we haven’t got everyone vaccinated. It’s not time yet to celebrate and throw caution to the wind.”

The picture in Rochdale is, on the whole, hugely encouraging. But the overall infection rate does remain above the national average, and stubbornly so in some areas.

However, Ms Fallon does not see any reason why the borough should not progress to ‘Step 3’ of the road map, should further relaxation of the rules be permitted come 17 May.

“I don’t see any reason at this point why we would not – numbers are coming down nicely,” she said.

She adds that much has been learnt about how the virus works, and the borough now has a ‘really strong’ vaccination and testing programme in place.

“We are in the best possible place we could be at this point. The onus is on all of us to keep going with the measures as much as we possibly can,” she said.

Those who are aged over 70 – or are clinically extremely vulnerably – and have been wating for longer than 11 weeks for their second dose of a vaccine should call 0300 303 0355 to book a jab.

Anyone with concerns over the vaccine is urged to contact the council’s public health team for expert advice.

More information can be found here: http://www.rochdale.gov.uk/covidvaccine

Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter

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