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Covid summit highlights how city will tackle low vaccine uptake

Plans to target specific areas of Peterborough were revealed as our local authority and health chiefs continue the Covid vaccination programme to try to boost out city's lower uptake rates.
Takeup of the flu vaccine has risen year-on-year in Peterborough (Photo: Adobe Stock)

And although city health chiefs are awaiting JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation) guidance plans are moving ahead for third dose booster vaccines to be administered as early as September 20.

The news was revealed in an online summit, entitled 'Keeping Peterborough Safe', the first one held since February in the city for leaders and stakeholders.

Peterborough City Council leader Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald said that it was "worrying" that the city lags 20% behind the average for the rest of the country for vaccination groups, and in some parts of the city as much as 40%.

He said that those on the summit meeting, held virtually, should use every tool possible to improve this, but added that the biggest tool to push young people towards vaccination would be the example of when "they're queueing for a pub, and eight can go in and two can't - then they'll see the difference."

New director of public health for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Jyoti Atri said: "Rates in Peterborough are very high at the moment at 436 per 100,000 in all ages, compared to 330 across England. We are in a different position and need to be more cautious because of it.

"More worryingly, rates in the over-60s are also much higher than the England average, at 220 compared to 167 across England.

"We know now that schools are back there is risk associated with that. Secondary school children are being asked to test under supervision in school, tested twice. That's a good thing because many of them will be asymptomatic, so we can ask those children to isolate.

"There is some good news however. Rates in the over-60s are much lower now than they were in January when there was little difference between their age group here and other age groups. 

"There's now a clear gap, and that is indicative of the vaccination campaign."

Atri added that hospitalisations are also much lower now that at the start of the year, despite the fact that infections are hardly any lower.

There have been Covid 13 deaths in the city since August 1, and Atri said: "That is of concern, but nowhere near the peak in January, and that plus the lower hospitalisations means there is comfort to take.

"The other risk, as well as schools being back, is that people who are contacts of cases are no longer required to isolate. Coupled with our low vaccination rates that means vulnerable people who have not been vaccinated could be exposed, and could have a poor outcome from that.

"That is so preventable if we drive up our vaccination rates."

So far 394,000 Covid vaccinations (both doses) have been administered, with buses attending public events, universities and colleges across the county, as well as other more permanent bases.

A graph of the uptake across different communities showed white British/Irish has the highest uptake at around 85-90% with 'white other' nearly 50% lower and other ethnicities between the two.

The campaign will continue to look at the barriers to vaccines at local levels as part of its plan to improve uptakes, and a push will be planned in the Central and Thistlemoor Primary Care Networks - where around 60% of adults have yet to receive even one dose - using a combination of 'walk-ins and roving models' to engage vaccine hesitant communities. 

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG chief nurse Carol Anderson said that planning for phase 3 - the third jab - is in earnest, with a possible start date of September 20. It will also align with the city's flu strategy, with more national guidance yet to come.

Community leader Bernadetta Omondi raised a number of issues, including people struggling to find time outside work to get vaccinations; booking being difficult for those with English as a second language; and a lack of transport to some vaccination points.

She added that some communities were still fearful of the vaccine, and asked why more clinicians could not be present at pop-up sites. Nurse Anderson said this was already the case. 

Peterborough MP Paul Bristow praised those who had worked together on the campaign, and also raised a point about some of those who had not been vaccinated.

He said: "We have to remember that we do have residents in our city that in living memories have lived in states with governments that have not been benevolent, under socialist and communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe. That goes even further for refugees and asylum seekers, and more recent arrivals. We can't be arrogant enough to assume that because the state is in charge, they will trust us.

"Also, some of the more difficult to reach communities are perhaps more prone to disinformation on social media, and we have to be aware of that.

"So they may have many questions, and because of that it's more about using an ear rather than a stick towards them."

Mr Bristow asked about a possible door-to-door strategy to approach those who have not yet been vaccinated, and Cllr Fitzgerald said that although this was already taking place there would be a 'redoubling' of the efforts from September 17.

Petr Torak of Compas said that for the last four months the charity had been working with Roma populations from Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia and other communities, tackling misinformation about vaccines.

He said that the main reason the Roma community was sceptical was the hoaxes on social media.

He added that the group had been commissioned to do some in-depth work because of disparity in vaccinations, including enlisting ambassadors and creating a helpline. 

Intelligence suggested most people would consider vaccinations purely because of travelling, or being unable to meet in large groups without vaccinations, which might change their ways of thinking - but otherwise it would be hard to break the 'mistrust'.