United Kingdom

Jab teams in Indian variant-hit Bolton defy official advice and roll out crisis doses for the young

Northerners are made of stern stuff but even they need a good reason to go out and be buffeted by driving rain and howling winds.

For the citizens of Bolton, that reason is the Indian variant of coronavirus.

'I'm here because I couldn't get an appointment with my GP,' explained mother-of-four Mel Flanagan as she waited patiently in a line stretching back across the car park of Essa Academy in the Lancashire town.

'I've been trying to get through for ages but just gave up in the end. The queue and the rain didn't put me off.'

During a day of confusion and mounting anxiety in the former mill town, it was wrongly announced that national guidelines on eligibility for a vaccine had been ditched and that adults of any age should could come forward for their jab.

During a day of confusion and mounting anxiety in Bolton, it was wrongly announced that national guidelines on eligibility for a vaccine had been ditched and that adults of any age should could come forward for their jab. (Above, people queuing for the vaccine on Saturday)

Bolton has the unenviable title of capital of the Indian variant outbreak. Cases in the town are running at about 200 per 100,000 – with Erewash in Derbyshire next highest on 163

Tory councillor Andy Morgan shared a tweet inviting locals to 'visit the vaccine bus', adding: 'The team will find a reason to vaccinate you. Closes at 5pm. The 4,000 vaccines must be used today.'

By the time the NHS had angrily denied his claim, demand at Essa Academy was so high that people were being turned away and asked to return again today.

Bolton has the unenviable title of capital of the Indian variant outbreak. Cases in the town are running at about 200 per 100,000 – with Erewash in Derbyshire next highest on 163.

Forty-two staff inside the 'vaccination bus' did their best to inject as many doses as they could and the local authority put more boots on the ground as well as offering door-to-door testing.

There is a genuine sense of urgency. Infection rates in Bolton have soared by more than 250 per cent in the past week, with the vast majority of cases in the under-30s.

There has also been a slight uptick in hospitalisations, including patients in their 50s and 60s who are not vaccinated but would have been eligible.

Local officials are desperate that neither cases nor admissions accelerate and are relying on a sense of community spirit to beat the surge. Rashad, 32, was also in the queue in Bolton yesterday.

'I'm not looking forward to this at all but it will be worth it to keep myself and my community safe,' he said. In the line beside him, another man said: 'The community leaders have been urging people at prayers to come and get their vaccine. We all have our part to play.'

Tory councillor Andy Morgan shared a tweet inviting locals to 'visit the vaccine bus', adding: 'The team will find a reason to vaccinate you. Closes at 5pm. The 4,000 vaccines must be used today.' By the time the NHS had angrily denied his claim, demand at Essa Academy was so high that people were being turned away and asked to return again today

Bolton Council leader David Greenhalgh said the majority of cases of coronavirus in the town involved people in their teens, 20s and 30s who are not yet eligible for a vaccination.

'Bolton craves normality as this town has been disproportionately affected by local lockdowns,' he said. 'I visited the vaccination site today and there were still queues long after closing time, with vaccinators working extra time to help everyone.

'Clearly the surge in Covid cases in Bolton is linked to international travel, there's no doubt about that.'

Boris Johnson announced on Friday that second jabs for those over 50 would be brought forward, but Mr Greenhalgh wants the Government to supply more doses to allow the town to vaccinate everyone. Uptake across the town is higher than 90 per cent but there are clusters in deprived areas such as Deane, Rumworth and Great Lever where it is far lower.

Bolton Council leader David Greenhalgh said the majority of cases of coronavirus in the town involved people in their teens, 20s and 30s who are not yet eligible for a vaccination

Dr Helen Wall, the clinician in charge of Bolton's vaccination drive, said: 'I don't think there is hesitancy as such, I think it's more about the barriers to vaccination.

'There are some really deprived areas where people don't all have cars, they might not have money for the bus, they might not want to get on the bus because they catch Covid. Maybe they've got several children they are looking after, elderly relatives, there's all sorts of reasons.'

Despite fears over the Indian variant, the Government is pressing ahead with the latest stage of its roadmap tomorrow. Bolton is more cautious, advising care homes not to proceed with the planned easing of restrictions yet.

Few people not in search of a vaccine ventured into Bolton town centre, but Jayne Cadman had braved the rain. 'The virus is a worry for people and the town isn't as busy as it usually is,' she said.

Shaking his head, Peter Worsley, 75, who was hospitalised for two weeks with Covid-19 over Christmas, said: 'I think Bolton's infection rate is down to the fact that the Government was very slow in closing our borders to international travel. If we had taken action sooner then perhaps we wouldn't be in this situation now.'

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