Covid cases falling in Luton but booster jab uptake is sixth lowest in country

Level of vaccination 'isn't where we'd want it to be' admits director of public health

By Euan Duncan
Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 11:53 am
Updated Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 11:54 am

Luton has the sixth lowest Covid booster vaccination uptake in the country, and is in the bottom 20 of local authority areas for first and second doses, a meeting heard.

Figures show 67.4 per cent of people aged 12 and over in the town have been double jabbed, compared to 78.5 per cent nationally, the borough council's scrutiny health and social care review group was told on March 2.

"That's really low," warned Labour South councillor David Agbley. "There has to be a strategy of moving this up to 78 or 80 per cent for herd immunity."

Covid vaccination bus visiting Sainsbury's Bury Park. Photo: Tony Margiocchi

For first doses in Luton 72.2 per cent of those 12 and over have been vaccinated and 80 per cent of those aged 40 and above, of whom 78 per cent have had the second dose. The booster uptake for the 40 plus category is 60 per cent.

Councillor Agbley wondered about herd immunity now, asking: "How are we learning to live with Covid for population health and protection?"

Director of public health Sally Cartwright replied: "Part of that we're still getting to grips with, while some is around starting to return to normal with that air of caution around wearing face coverings, keeping personal distance, washing hands and vaccination.

"There will be a shift. There won't be twice a week testing of all students in schools soon.

"We're working through what that means for the public health response over the next month.

"There will be a level of immunity from vaccinations and from those who've had infections. We've seen many cases of Covid locally.

"While it's hard and sad, that will help with our natural immunity in the population, although vaccination uptake isn't where we'd want it to be."

Presenting a Covid update to the group, Ms Cartwright said: "Our case rates are rapidly decreasing. They're 260 per 100,000 yesterday. (Weds 2nd)

"They're falling in line with our neighbours and the national picture, and we've gone from one of the top boroughs into the middle of the rankings.

"There's an ongoing challenge with the reducing of testing, as people aren't taking a test or reporting quite as much, so the level is likely to be an underestimate. But that's not unique to Luton.

"The number of hospital admissions has been going down, but remains a little stubborn. It hasn't declined at the Luton and Dunstable site as quickly as in other hospital settings."

There are around 80 people with Covid in the hospital at present, while the patient figure in intensive care is also lower.

"It could be because the case rates are an underestimate, the fact our vaccinations remain low so there's more illness with those cases, or Covid within the hospital setting," she explained. "It's not a really worrying scenario.

"Our vaccination uptake continues to be comparatively low. Our booster uptake is the sixth lowest in the country, and we're about 18th lowest in the country for first and second doses.

"We've the old post office in The Mall as our walk-in vaccine service, as well as the Redgrave Centre.

"A steady stream of people continue to come through. It seems the numbers for Luton haven't dropped off as rapidly as they have in other areas."

Liberal Democrat Stopsley councillor Richard Underwood, who chairs the group, asked whether residents would be confused by the variety of restrictions required in some places, after the relaxing of Covid measures.

Ms Cartwright described it as "a challenge", saying: "Covid hasn't gone away and people should remain cautious.

"Vaccination is really key to that, so we're trying to promote that wherever we can."