“An effective vaccine programme has to meet the needs of all communities” says Lena Abdu, Primary Care Network (PCN) Development Manager for Alliance for Better Care.

Here, Lena talks about how she’s been working with partners and communities to ensure the best uptake of the vaccine.

“Primary Care Networks across Surrey Heartlands serve many different communities, and amongst the UK population, as a whole, there are well known emerging inequalities in access and uptake of the vaccine. An effective vaccine programme has to meet the needs of all communities, working with partners and communities to ensure the best uptake. That’s why the vaccine programme is a cause for optimism and a real opportunity for PCN’s to reach out.

“Vaccine sites are delivering at pace and scale but not everyone can or will access a busy vaccine site. The first challenge has been identifying which groups of people need a different route to receiving a vaccine. This has only been possible by engaging with PCNs and primary care teams who know their populations well and by working closely with partners at grass roots level.

“Some of these partnerships were already in place, for example one PCN was already represented at a local advisory group, hosted by the Citizens Advice Bureau that focuses on BAME engagement projects and therefore had instant connections to community representatives, whereas others had to seek out new partners.

“Listening to partners including charities, inclusion health teams, housing colleagues, and trusted voices was critical to planning next steps and shifted the focus to what’s acceptable for recipients rather than convenient for us.

“What we discovered was that one partner connects you to another. An example of this was working with housing teams to deliver vaccines to people experiencing homelessness. When faced with a spreadsheet with numerous addresses including individual rough sleepers, the challenge was how best to deliver vaccines in a safe, acceptable, and dignified way. We were then introduced to Renewed Hope, a charity that provides practical solutions and emotional support to people who are homeless, who offered a vaccine venue, familiar to the people we wanted to connect with, and offer vaccines to.

“A date and time were set, vaccine supply secured from the local PCN site and together with housing colleagues, a list was coordinated so that the roving team had as much information in advance. The coordination took time but equally saved time on the day of vaccination. Added to this the frequent and fairly fast communication between new partners provided better awareness of the concerns of the communities and the basis of future trusted relationships. It also provides opportunities for PCN’s to ensure the correct information is shared – for example you won’t be invited for a vaccine without an NHS number – but you can definitely receive a vaccine, and that vaccination is in no way linked to immigration status.

“After each roving team site visit it has been important to look at what we’re learning and to ask the roving team to feedback about what they observed, what worked well, and what could be improved. For example, I learnt that timing needed to be more flexible and that a more fluid drop in style was more acceptable and effective. It allowed people to watch, engage with the roving teams generally about health, and to feel more confident in vaccination. It was also helpful to go back to partners, to find out their views and to be responsive when planning future visits. Using the same roving team provided reassurance to people returning for second vaccines. It was also key to have trusted people present, such as members of the inclusion health team who knew the clients well and could provide reassurance.

“Of course, roving teams won’t solve years of inequality through the vaccine programme. Inequality and inequity are experienced daily and the vaccine only provides immunity against Covid but it is part of an ongoing effort to understand our local assets that can address immediate vaccine inequity but also create a foundation for the future.

Lena Abdu, PCN Development Manager, Alliance for Better Care

Thanks to: Renewed Hope; Reigate & Banstead Borough Council and Surrey County Council colleagues; and the Inclusion Health Team from First Community Health Care.