Concern over low vaccine uptake in deprived areas of Southend

HEALTH bosses are struggling to persuade people living in some of the most deprived wards in Southend to get COVID-19 vaccinations.

Speaking at a Southend Council people scrutiny committee meeting on Wednesday, Krishna Ramkhelawon, director of public health, said the low uptake in Kursaal, Victoria, Milton and Westborough wards was a “real concern” fuelled by negativity from vaccine hesitant groups.

He said: “The position as it stands currently is that we’ve got four wards that are deemed to be a concern for us in terms of low coverage for vaccination. Since April we have been working to look at how we can improve the uptake of the vaccine and trying to understand how the local population are responding to the offer of the vaccine.

“Some of the work we’ve done has had an impact. There has been a 5 per cent increase in the last few weeks in Westborough ward but we haven’t seen a corresponding increase in the other two wards.

“We put in place a vaccine hesitancy plan with the NHS in June. As part of that we shared with the local outbreak and control and engagement board further detailed breakdown of some of that data.”

Mr Ramkhelawon’s annual report revealed of the four wards, Kursaal had the highest vaccine uptake with about 750 per 1,000 residents. Westborough had the lowest at 650 per 1,000.

Of all Southend wards, Thorpe has the highest rate at 750 while paradoxically Leigh ward has the lowest uptake overall at 580.

Mr Ramkhelawon said care had to be taken when trying to target community groups.

He said: “These are the most deprived communities. That’s a real concern. The way to approach engagement around that is much more difficult. It’s not a simple conversation.

We have asked some of our third sector partners to identify some of the local groups who could work with us.

“We are going to be running some localised drop-in clinics using either a mobile unit or an asset within those communities to do that. We’ve identified those aligned to faith and spiritual groups are more engaged to lead a conversation or not at all.

“Other groups are feeling a little bit threatened on engaging with the vaccination agenda not least because of some of the negativity that is being portrayed for those who are clearly against the vaccination programme.”

He added: “We are going to have to carry on working with those communities to find the best way to try and convince them there is real value in taking the vaccine.

“One thing we were told very clearly is that we have got to be careful when we are targeting that it is not described as really targeting communities. We need to do intervention that encourages people to come out to us.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter