New COVID vaccine sites to open in Waltham Forest

Two new mass COVID vaccination sites are opening in Waltham Forest as the local NHS prepares to start offering second doses of the jab.

A meeting of the council’s health scrutiny committee on Tuesday February 23 heard Chingford Leisure Centre and Walthamstow Library had both been selected as new sites.

Chingford Leisure Centre, in New Road, Chingford, will focus on offering first doses, while existing sites and the library in High Street, Walthamstow, will start giving out second doses.

Sue Boon, from Waltham Forest clinical commissioning group (CCG), told the committee: “Chingford Leisure Centre will open as a large-scale site later on in March.

“We have also got plans to open a site at Walthamstow Library and are working very closely with our colleagues in the council to make those sites operate really effectively.”

Asked by Cllr Catherine Saumarez (Con, Larkswood) if there could be a drop-in centre in future, she said the CCG “have not got confirmed plans” but are “going to need to be developing that”.

The committee also heard from Leytonstone GP and CCG chairman Dr Ken Aswani, who said doctors could hold vaccine clinics at their practices if their patients could not make it to a centre.

According to Ms Boon, Waltham Forest NHS is trying to improve uptake of the vaccine among black African and Carribean residents, as well as the homeless and those with learning disabilities.

It has organised “a number of pop-up sites targeting specific communities”, such as a clinic at Lea Bridge Road Mosque last week, which vaccinated more than 100 people in two hours.

Cllr Saumarez noted she was glad to see plans for “additional quiet times” to vaccinate residents with special needs, adding: “I know several autistic residents who would be completely overwhelmed by the vaccination centre.

“I’m doing some shifts at the Forest Road one and it’s a model of efficiency, I can’t praise it enough, but at one point they were doing a jab a minute.”

A report prepared for the meeting stated that only 40 per cent of health and social care staff, such as those who work in care homes, had received a COVID vaccine.

The council’s public health consultant Russell Carter noted this figure had “improved quite significantly” to more than 60 per cent of staff since the report was written.

The committee heard, from the council’s strategic families director Heather Flinders, that more than 90 per cent of social care staff had been offered the vaccine.

However, she said some staff had not received it because they were shielding or self-isolating when it was offered or had received it and had chosen not to disclose this to the NHS.

She remarked that this appeared to be due to concerns about how an “immunity passport”, an idea currently being considered by the Government, could work in future.

Cllr Tony Bell (Lab, Hale End and Higham Park) added the committee’s thanks to the council officers and GPs who had managed the COVID vaccine rollout.

He said: “Sometimes I’m not sure it’s appreciated by the general public that people are organising and managing such a complicated process in such a difficult time.” 

The latest figures published by the NHS show that, as of February 18, more than 37,500 Waltham Forest residents have received their first dose of the vaccine.

However, earlier this week, activists warned that undocumented migrants, who the Government is trying to encourage to take the jab, were being wrongly turned away from GPs.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter