As I write this, news is coming in of the approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. This is incredibly important and welcome news for the whole country, including for us here in Cheltenham.
The situation in Gloucestershire is serious. As at 4:30pm on Tuesday, there were 221 COVID patients in Cheltenham General and GRH – a marked increase over the previous 24 hours, and significantly higher than the spring peak. Although fewer people are dying than during the spring thanks to medical advances, none of these is a ‘soft’ admission. Every single patient needs to be in hospital, and without such care many more would not survive. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of NHS staff are off sick or isolating.
The Oxford vaccine will make a major difference. First, it is easier to store than the Pfizer equivalent, and so can be distributed more readily to care homes. Second, we have 100m doses on order, making us one of the best supplied nations on earth. Third, it is more effective than a standard flu vaccine. And fourth, no one who received even one dose during the trials became seriously ill.
So it’s excellent news that this will be rolling out in Gloucestershire from next week. We are now in a flat race to save as many lives and livelihoods as possible. This allows us to pick up the pace, and gives us greater confidence of reaching a degree of normality in the spring.
This is the moment for us as a community to show maximum vigilance. Mountaineers know that the descent is the most dangerous part of the climb. Euphoria, fatigue and complacency lead to mistakes.
All of us could be shedding the virus without realising. If we all act as if we’ve got it, lives will be saved, our town’s recovery will come faster and Gloucestershire’s NHS will be protected. Let's hold the line.