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Coronavirus

Swansea GP and pharmacist sisters call on BAME community to take up COVID-19 vaccine offer

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Two sisters, who have been on the primary care frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic, are calling on fellow black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community members to get vaccinated.

Reem El-Sharkawi is a pharmacist supporting a group of Swansea GP surgeries, and Dr Lamah El-Sharkawi is a GP at Uplands and Mumbles surgery, and a GP tutor at Swansea University Medical School. They are half-Egyptian, half-Lebanese and, in their words, fully Welsh.

Over the past 12 months, Reem and Lamah have seen the devastating effect COVID-19 can have on families and communities, both professionally and personally. 

“We’ve all been affected greatly by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Reem says.

“Many of us – including my sister and I – have lost loved ones to this virus, while others are still experiencing the after effects of COVID-19 long after catching it.”

As seen so far elsewhere in the UK, fewer people from BAME backgrounds in Swansea Bay have accepted the offer of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to white individuals.

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National surveys have also shown that people from ethnic minority backgrounds are generally less likely to have a COVID-19 vaccine. This is for a variety of reasons, including potential side effects and safety.

“A lot of people are still hesitant about getting vaccinated,” Lamah says.

“While we understand your concerns, and where they may come from, it is so important that we all do our bit and protect ourselves, our family, friends and community.”

Reem adds, “One key issue we know many people have concerns about is whether the COVID-19 vaccines are safe to have, given how quickly it has been developed compared to other vaccines.

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“They were created by scientists from across the world. All the proper steps and procedures were followed but it was manufactured and tested at a really quick rate because of this global effort and funding.

“The vaccines that are being used by the NHS in Swansea Bay and across the UK have all been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency which is an independent body that scrutinises and regulates all our vaccines and medications to ensure their safety and efficacy.”

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Both Reem and Lamah have already had their vaccine, as has their father, retired consultant oncologist Dr Salah El-Sharkawi.

“We would strongly urge and encourage all our family, friends and everyone in the community to get the vaccine too,” Lamah says.

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“There is lots of official information available on the government, NHS and Swansea Bay University Health Board websites but if you have any concerns or questions about the vaccine, please don’t hesitate to speak to your GP or pharmacist.

“They will be happy to talk it through with you and answer any questions you may have.”

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More than 120,000 people have now received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Swansea Bay, with thousands more booked in for an appointment.

People in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot are being vaccinated at GP surgeries and Mass Vaccination Centres according to where they fall in the priority groups set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

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At the time of writing, patients in group 6 have begun to be called for vaccination, along with those over age 65. Group 6 includes people with underlying health conditions, eligible unpaid carers, people with learning disabilities, and those with severe mental illnesses.


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Coronavirus

Wales extends COVID-19 testing throughout July

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Welsh Health Minister, Eluned Morgan has confirmed that access to free LFD tests will be extended in Wales until July 31st 2022.

Tests will be available to the public that are showing symptoms of coronavirus (high temperature a new, continuous cough, a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste), alongside free access for people visiting someone eligible for new COVID-19 treatments.

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The announcement comes following a rise in cases, with The Office for National Statistics recent survey reporting an increase in cases across the UK. An estimated 1 in 45 people in Wales currently have COVID-19.

The emergence of the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants are also contributing to this increase as they become more dominant across the UK.

The health minister has also announced the following testing will continue to be in place –

  • LFD and PCR testing for those eligible for COVID-19 treatments.
  • PCR testing for COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses for symptomatic care home residents and prisoners.
  • PCR and LFD testing under the patient testing framework and when clinically advised including pre-operative hospital patients and care home residents returning from inpatient hospital stays
  • LFD testing for symptomatic health and social care staff.
  • Twice weekly LFD tests for asymptomatic testing for health and social care staff
  • Those visiting people in care homes should continue to test using tests provided by the care home they are visiting.

Self-isolation payments of £500 will end on 30th June 2022, whilst the COVID-19 Statutory Sick Pay Enhancement scheme will be extended until 31st August 2022 to support social care staff to stay away from work due to testing positive.

Minister for Health and Social Services, Eluned Morgan, said: “Testing has been an effective tool in breaking the chain of transmission and with an increase in cases its vital that we keep testing in place to protect the most vulnerable in our society. As we have seen before, Covid can quickly change, I am announcing this extension in response to the changing picture and new variants of concern.

“I would also ask people to take protective measures to protect the more vulnerable in the community, wear masks in health and care settings, stay at home if you test positive, and take up the offer for the vaccine. We know that the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself, I would urge those eligible to have their spring booster if they have not already had it, the booster is available until June 30.

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“Covid has not gone away, whilst we are learning to live safely with it, we will continue to monitor the situation and as we have done for the last two years, we will work together to Keep Wales Safe.”

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Coronavirus

Coronavirus regulations to end in Wales

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First Minister Mark Drakeford today said Wales can look forward to a brighter future, as the last remaining coronavirus protections in law come to an end.

After more than two years of living with coronavirus regulations, these will expire on Monday May 30 when the requirement to wear a face covering in health and care settings ends.

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But the Welsh Government will continue to recommend people take simple steps to protect their health – including wearing face coverings in health and care settings – as Wales moves beyond the emergency response to the pandemic.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The pandemic has had a profound impact on all our lives – everyone has made sacrifices and changes over the last two years. But it is thanks to all your efforts that we can move beyond the emergency response while still living safely with this virus.

“I want to thank everyone for all you have done to protect yourselves and your loved ones. You have followed the rules and you have kept Wales safe.

“This three-week review of the coronavirus regulations is a significant milestone – we are completing our careful and gradual transition away from legal protections and away from the emergency response to the pandemic.”

The public health situation is continuing to improve in Wales – results from recent ONS Coronavirus Infection Surveys show the number of people with Covid-19 is falling.

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But in the past week, the four UK chief medical officers have warned about the risk from new variants – BA.4 and BA.5.

The First Minister said Wales will remain alert to these and is ready to scale up testing and vaccination arrangements once again if the public health situation changes.

He added: “We remain alert to the threat of new and emerging variants, and we will be ready to respond if we see a rapid spread of the virus, causing widespread harm.

“Continuing to take simple steps, including staying up to date with vaccinations; self-isolating if you have Covid-19 symptoms and maintaining good hand hygiene, will be important in helping us all to enjoy a safer and brighter future together.”

From Monday 30 May, the legal requirement to wear a face covering in health and care settings will end. This follows the outcome of the three-weekly review of coronavirus regulations and completes a gradual, phased easing of legal restrictions since January.

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Over the last three weeks the public health situation has continued to improve, with the latest results from the ONS Coronavirus Infection Survey showing the percentage of people testing positive for coronavirus in Wales is falling.

The number of Covid-19 related patients has also fallen to less than 700 and is at its lowest level since 28 December 2021, although the NHS remains under pressure from a combination of emergency and pandemic pressures with a significant number of staff absences.

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Coronavirus

New COVID vaccination centre opens at Aberavon Shopping Centre

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A new COVID vaccination centre for Port Talbot is opening at Aberavon Shopping Centre.

Situated next door to B&M, near the river bridge entrance, Swansea Bay Health Board say it will provide vaccinations to adults and children alike.

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The first clinic will be held at the Local Vaccination Centre (LVC) on Thursday, May 26th. Slots will be available by appointment only for the time being.

The health board are asking people not to telephone the shopping centre if they want to make an appointment or if they have a general query. The health board’s booking centre can be contacted on 01792 200492 or 01639 862323.

The opening comes as the health board winds down its vaccination operation at the Bay Field Hospital near Amazon, off Fabian Way, which has been open since the first Covid vaccine was rolled out to health and social care staff in December 2020.

The final Covid vaccination clinic will be held at the Bay Mass Vaccination Centre on Wednesday, June 1st.

Blood tests will continue on that site for the time being.

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Covid vaccination clinics will also continue to be scheduled at Canolfan Gorseinon Centre, in the health board’s container in the car park of Morrisons supermarket on Baglan Industrial Park and on the Immbulance mobile vaccination clinic, which stops at various venues across the Swansea Bay area.

Interim Head of Transformation, James Ruggiero, said the move to the shopping centre signals a wider change in the Covid vaccination programme.

“The Bay has been absolutely brilliant for us but thankfully, we no longer need a permanent venue of that size.

“While no one can predict exactly what will happen in the future, we do know that some people, particularly those who are vulnerable, will need Covid boosters to help maintain a level of protection against the coronavirus, which is still out there.

“This new venue is perfect for that and a bonus is that being smaller and less intimidating, it can also be used to host clinics for children aged five to 11.”

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Vaccination staff Owain Williams, Samantha Minards, Rebecca Maus, Mathew Davies and Geraint Hammond, inside the new vaccination centre at Aberafan Shopping Centre (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Mr Ruggiero added: “Our teams have worked hard to set up this new convenient unit and to make it as comfortable and efficient as possible.

“We hope the public welcome it and enjoy popping to the other shops to pick up a bargain once they’ve come in for their vaccination.”

The Aberafan Shopping Centre LVC will be open between 9.30am and 4.30pm. Vaccinations are on an appointment-only basis for now.

The first vaccinations will be for the spring booster which, in line with JCVI guidance, is being given to those aged 75 and over, older care home residents and those aged 12 and over who are immunosuppressed.

The health board will shortly be announcing clinic dates for those aged five to 11 in June.

A Covid booster programme is due to run in the autumn, with interim JCVI advice saying that Residents in a care home for older adults and staff working in care homes for older adults; Frontline health and social care workers; All those 65 years of age and over; and adults aged 16 to 65 years in a clinical risk group should each receive one dose.

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(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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