As hundreds of thousands of elderly people start to receive their autumn coronavirus booster vaccine this week, Debbie Drew, our Community Engagement Lead Fenland, talks about the challenges and barriers she faced in setting up the vaccination programme in the Fenland region.
As Debbie says, ‘I was employed to look at vaccine hesitancy and uptake in Fenland, particularly with the Eastern European Community and the Homeless. To enable this, two local organisations were engaged and funded to provide workers. Ferry project had one full-time worker, and Access Migrant support had a Latvian / Russian speaker and a Lithuanian speaker’.
‘Having these two organisations on board helped break down some of the barriers (particularly language for me) as they already had a trusted presence in the community.’
‘The project did various things over the year but included a lot of engagement with businesses. Often the workers in the businesses have the information we needed, particularly issues arising and general feelings towards a vaccine.’
‘Since March this year, we have been investigating places where we could bring a roving vaccination team to the different communities. This was either by hiring a room or bringing the vaccination vehicle to a site. Therefore, I spent time visiting all the four market towns (and some villages) to see where we might get a good response’.
‘I found a suitable venue in Chatteris, and the first pop-up we did there was during a big storm day (we nearly cancelled), but we still saw 54 people turn up for vaccination. However, booking the venue and turning up does not alone produce consistent numbers. Therefore, during the previous week, I organised for some posters and flyers to be printed and hand-delivered to shops, doctor’s surgeries, sports venues and anywhere else that will take them’.
‘Engaging directly with local businesses on the ground proved to be a great help. Going around and speaking to everyone and sharing information, as well as answering general questions, proved extremely helpful and led to great attendance at these events. The highest turnout was 141 in Chatteris after the Spring Booster was announced. The businesses have all gotten to know me, and I have no problem asking them to share the information’.
‘The most important thing that I have learned is that although there is hesitancy around vaccines for many people, there were bigger issues facing them. The main one is limited access – if you live in a village and do not drive, getting to a mass vaccination site is difficult- local transport is not always the best. Many people also found that the opening times were not suitable or the slots at weekends were unavailable’.
‘Many people had been offered vaccinations 20 to 30 miles away, but this was too far to travel for some, especially for those who didn’t deem vaccinations or boosters’ top priority. Even now, at some of our recent pop-up sessions, we are still getting people coming for their first-time vaccination’.
‘If the public were carers (this can include parents), getting to a vaccine centre takes time and meant time away from caring for, which was not always possible. When you have several children, taking them all to a vaccination centre is not ideal either. Thus the more local approach tended to suit these people’.
‘Needle phobia was another reason people did not attend the vaccination centres. However, at the pop-up sites, the staff were able to offer to see people in a quieter environment and gave them extra time & support’.
Debbie concluded by saying ‘Although we have had some great results this year, I cannot get complacent and will keep pressing hard and setting up pop-up sessions wherever we can. With infections falling, health bosses are still predicting a rise in Covid and flu cases this winter, which is expected to increase the pressure on hospitals’.
The funding and project are due to finish on 18th October 2022. To find out about the vaccination programme in Fenland before then, please get in touch with Debbie on 07955440672 or email her at email@example.com.