Frontline doctors have issued desperate pleas for more people to get vaccinated after reporting that in some hospitals all new intensive care Covid patients have not had jabs.
An estimated 5 million people, or 10% of the eligible population, have not had been inoculated, and it is this group who are seemingly draining the most resources from overstretched hospitals, experts say.
The problem is worst in parts of London, but Cambridge’s Royal Papworth hospital said more than 80% of its Covid patients requiring the most care were unjabbed.
Will Ricketts, a consultant chest physician at the Royal London hospital, tweeted on Wednesday: “Every new respiratory admission with Covid since Friday has been unvaccinated.”
On Sunday he had said nearly every patient on the Covid wards and every patient he had referred to intensive care was unvaccinated. He pleaded: “We’re not here to judge (my day job is lung cancer), but please help us to help you please #GetVaccinatedNow.”
A source for Barts health trust said: “The number of unvaccinated people admitted to ICU has fluctuated between 80% and 90% across the north-east London patch over the past few weeks. For our trust that includes Royal London, Barts, Whipps Cross and Newham.”
On Tuesday a respiratory registrar at a west London hospital tweeted: “Every single patient in our respiratory support unit is unvaccinated … #vaccines work”. He later deleted the tweet after some accused him of breaching patient confidentiality.
Prof Rupert Pearse, an intensive care doctor at the Royal London and Barts, confirmed to the BBC that up to 90% of his patients were unvaccinated. He said: “It’s very sad that people are vaccine-hesitant, but we understand the reasons, and we are happy to talk about people’s fears about getting vaccinated. There is absolutely no doubt that it’s protecting the population.”
Jo-anne Fowles, a nurse consultant in extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) – a procedure for providing prolonged cardiac and respiratory support – at the Royal Papworth told ITV Anglia: “82% of the patients we have treated for Covid-19 since February have been unvaccinated.”
On Sunday the health secretary, Sajid Javid, said about nine out of 10 Covid patients needing the most care in hospital had not been jabbed. This figure is believed to refer to those requiring ECMO, according to Anthony Masters, an ambassador for the Royal Statistical Society. He said information provided by NHS England showed that of the 154 Covid patients receiving ECMO between July to November, 141 , or 92%, were unvaccinated.
The UK Health Security Agency’s latest vaccine surveillance showed that of the 3,087 people who died of Covid in England in the three weeks before 6 December, 718 were unvaccinated, or about 23%.
Prof Jim McManus, the president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, cautioned against more regular publication of data on the health outcomes for unvaccinated people – as seen in the US – unless it could be put in context.
He said: “I’m not sure those figures would prod a lot of people to get vaccinated, because it could get accidentally or deliberately misinterpreted. Some will seize on the fact that vaccinated people are in hospital to suggest the vaccines don’t work.”
He added: “There will be vaccinated people in hospital as a matter of basic arithmetic. Before Omicron, the vaccines were around 96% effective at protecting against hospitalisation. But 4% of 1 million people represents 40,000 people. So if you look at the sheer numbers without looking at the proportions involved, it can look like the vaccine isn’t having an effect. But there is a much higher proportion of those who are unvaccinated ending up in hospital. If the statistics were put in context, it could really help.”
The chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said: “We would strongly encourage everyone who is eligible to get jabbed or boosted, and to think about how they can reduce the risk of infection.
“Trust leaders consistently tell us that most of the Covid-19 patients they are seeing are unvaccinated. We don’t hold data on that, but it’s a recurring theme and a source of frustration, not least because of the potential impact on other patients whose treatment may be delayed as a result.”