Waltham Forest councillors and MP push for COVID vaccination centre in south of borough

Waltham Forest councillors are “fighting” the NHS to get a COVID vaccine centre for the south of the borough after the closure of a Leyton site.

NHS figures published on March 11 show Chingford has given out more first doses of the COVID vaccine than other parts of the borough.

Of the nearly 65,000 first doses given out, 24,655 were in Chingford, 20,154 were in Leytonstone and Leyton and 19,842 were in Walthamstow.

Waltham Forest NHS closed the Oliver Road Medical Centre site in Leyton on March 3, announcing two new sites at Chingford Leisure Centre and Walthamstow Library.

While the new sites, which both opened this week, will be able to vaccinate 1,800 people a day at full capacity, many residents worry about the lack of provision for the borough’s southern end.

Speaking today, council leader Cllr Clare Coghill confirmed councillors and MP John Cryer have been lobbying to secure a site for the area.

She said: “All Leytonstone and Leyton councillors have got together, rightly so and fully supported (by the council), to make the case for a large-scale vaccination centre for the south of the borough.

“I’m not aware of any issues at the (Oliver Road) site but obviously (closing is) a decision for the CCG.

“Our position, which is no surprise, is we want as many centres open to vaccinate as many people as possible.”

The council has offered all of its buildings as possible sites, particularly libraries, which she felt were “ideal”.

She added: “It’s an open offer. We told them ‘never let the lack of a building, administrative processes or even people to stand at the doors hold you back’.”

Earlier this week, a joint Twitter account for councillors in Cann Hall ward tweeted: “We’re still fighting with the CCG to get one in this end of the borough, after Oliver Rd closed.”

Waltham Forest clinical commissioning group (CCG), which manages the borough’s NHS funds, publicly apologised in January after reports of overcrowding at the Oliver Road Medical Centre site.

It has also taken the decision to close the Forest Road Medical Centre site in Walthamstow, also subject to complaints, at the end of the month.

A statement from the CCG on February 26 said the two sites selected to close had been “launched at pace” in order to vaccinate people “as soon as possible”.

It adds that the NHS has since worked with the council to establish the new sites “which will ensure an improved on-site experience for people receiving their vaccinations.”

However, several workers at the Oliver Road site told the Waltham Forest Echo last month that they felt the centre should not close until the area’s most vulnerable had received their second dose.

Elizabeth Roofe, a community matron who came out of retirement to administer COVID-19 vaccines, said she was only informed of the closure five days before the centre shut.

Another nurse – who asked not to be named – said her “main concern” was whether the more hesitant residents would be willing to travel to receive their second dose.

The borough has seen several pop-up clinics, like the one at Lea Bridge Road Mosque, focused on vaccinating more hesitant groups somewhere they feel most comfortable.

Cllr Coghill said: “The pop-up stuff is really good but it takes quite a lot of resources. You still need the GP there but you only reach about 300 people a day.

“For some hard to reach people that’s going to be really relevant… but we (also) need to get GPs back to their practices.”

She said the council had seen great success setting up faith and community groups to discuss people’s fears and “gently and appropriately challenge those misconceptions”.

As of March 11, almost 65,000 Waltham Forest residents had received their first dose of the vaccine, while around 1,600 had received both their first and their second.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter