Blog - Local Relationships at the Heart of the Vaccination Rollout
As I type this, according to the government, more than 20 million people in the UK have had their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
I had my vaccination a couple of weeks ago, and some of my family have had theirs over the last month or so. It feels like a ray of hope at what has been, a really difficult time.
Rolling out such a vast vaccination programme in a short turnaround time, is a remarkable achievement. While there are three ways COVID-19 vaccines are being delivered at the moment – in hospitals; through GP-led sites and most recently mass vaccination hubs – my focus in this blog is on the GP-led vaccine programme.
It’s no surprise that the most comprehensive and rapid vaccination programme is in the UK, with probably the strongest primary health care system in the world, along with the one in Israel. GPs in England are particularly well placed to roll out a challenging programme such as this – they run mass programmes every year for flu vaccinations and they know their local populations; the vast majority of whom are registered with a local GP. For this programme, primary care networks have come together to create vaccination sites that serve their local communities. Choosing those sites is partly to do with the storage needed - particularly for the Pfizer vaccine - partly to do with the logistics and partly to make the best use of local NHS premises and the staff needed to run them. Some sites are on NHS premises, but because of the sheer scale needed, spaces such as leisure centres and places of worship have been turned into vaccination sites.
GPs are not doing it by themselves. Local authorities have found venues, cleared roads and car parks of the recent snow and managed traffic. Other parts of the local NHS system, e.g. clinical commissioning groups have provided back office support and staff. Equally important, has been the enormous effort from volunteers to support the roll out – retired health care professionals working as vaccinators, car park marshals, meet and greeters, drivers and clinic administrators. This has been led mainly by local community groups who, despite the pressures they are under as a result of the pandemic, have brought together and mobilised enormous numbers of volunteers to support GPs. Such is the testament to community spirit! Providing vaccines in local communities was important at the beginning when the most vulnerable people were targeted first. Even as the programme gets bigger, local community efforts will be absolutely key.
While vaccine uptake in the older age groups seems high, confidence in having the vaccines is much lower in some areas, especially among particular BAME groups and younger people. Some people, such as those who are homeless or not registered with GPs, will find it harder to get the vaccine. While GPs can help, the only way to make sure it reaches into these groups will be to work in partnership with local communities through voluntary groups, Faith groups and councils, making sure barriers are removed. To avoid making existing inequalities worse, working with local communities is the way forward to ensuring the vaccination reaches everyone who needs it.
One of the most positive things to have come out of this programme has been the stronger links developed between the NHS and local communities. This way of providing care and support in neighbourhoods where people live, is likely to be increasingly important in the future.
(Author: Richard Vann, Healthatch Officer)