THE DISASTER movies seemingly get it right: a few scientists spot the threat, some move early to recognise it, but it is not until the unfolding disaster becomes obvious that everyone else starts to take it seriously. Then, at the last minute, a solution is found and the credits roll. For the pandemic that solution – vaccines – has been with us for over a year but, with Omicron now well established, there is much to do.

The early days of the pandemic were a rush, in all senses. We knew that a new disease was coming to us, and that it had killed many in Wuhan, Iran, and Italy amongst others. It was highly transmissible, and at the time thought to have up to a 10% fatality rate.

Local and national modelling suggested that without mitigations such as the first lockdown, we would need anywhere between 150 and 1,000 beds for critically unwell patients – far above any reasonable capacity – and we were faced with the worrying prospect of restricting treatment only to the youngest and fittest of those infected. The race was on to get as close to that as we could and hope that the politicians and population would help to reduce the numbers.

No stone went unturned in that race: Bradford has become rightly famous for its massive CPAP rollout - based on communication with other countries, first-principles science, and a bit of luck – but innovation in all areas was vital.

I spent a day driving round collecting Tommee Tippee bottle sterilisers to allow us to safely reuse some PPE, weeks 3D-printing CPAP valves (an offshoot of which is now in use in Uganda) and adapters to use snorkelling equipment, and the start of our ICU mask decontamination process was fuelled by a donation of ethanol from a local gin distillery.

I am proud to say that despite our fears, and a genuine belief that we all had a reasonable chance of dying from caring for people with Covid-19 (luckily the real fatality rate turned out to be much lower), we all stepped up. We scrubbed ourselves after every shift, and some with vulnerable family chose to live apart, but we faced the onslaught with a real sense of purpose – and I am proud to say we never had to restrict treatment as we had feared.

As those initial days and weeks turned into months and now years, it has become more difficult. Running full-speed is not sustainable in the long term, and patients with Covid-19 have been some of the sickest I have ever seen. It is hard to read articles in the popular press claiming it is “just like the flu” when I have treated patients with both, and have never seen flu patients have blood so thick it turns into jelly as it comes into the syringe – or any of the bizarre range of features that can appear in severe Covid-19.

Most common though, and the one I find hardest to deal with, is the far-too familiar story of someone struggling to breathe – and desperately asking to be vaccinated when it is already too late. A lot of us have really struggled in the NHS – rates of PTSD are high, and with this latest wave there is a real feeling that the worst could have been avoided.

I understand why people might be nervous about government messaging on vaccines – our leaders haven’t exactly developed a reputation for honesty. But having been there when vaccines first became available to NHS staff – you could almost hear the stampede as people came forward who had seen how bad Covid-19 can get, and wanted to protect themselves and their families.

Omicron has changed things a little – the vaccines are no longer quite so effective at preventing you catching the disease at all – but protection against being seriously unwell is still there for most, increasing with each dose through to the booster. Even if you have already had the disease a vaccine can provide much stronger immunity, and can help to prevent you catching it again or, if you do, making sure that the second time isn’t worse as we unfortunately know it can be.

Another thing I have really struggled with in this pandemic has been the misinformation – often peddled by grifters operating on social media who seem to just enjoy the publicity. Making up nonsense about “syncytin-1 homology” and vaccines affecting fertility has led to some heartbreaking scenes in hospitals across the country - vaccines will always be safer than the alternative, for both mother and baby. Even this weekend we have had a doctor suggesting that the only people needing intensive care have been old, overweight, unfit, or with other health conditions. This is not true: but what they have been, by and large, is unvaccinated.

I hope, but unfortunately cannot believe, that this “Omicron” wave will be our last. But as our government moves closer to “vaccine-only” protection for the population I am sure that I will be meeting more people who are seriously unwell with Covid-19. Please don’t let it be you – please get your vaccine.