South east London, home to nearly 2 million people, recently reached the milestone of its millionth vaccine being delivered. South East London Integrated Care System (ICS), which brings together NHS providers and other NHS organisations, local authorities and community and voluntary sector organisations, has been coordinating the vaccine rollout across Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark.
There has been strong vaccine uptake among older people (with over 87% in each of the 70-74, 75-79, and 80+ age cohorts having had their first dose), and confidence has grown among other groups as well. However, there has been variation between populations and areas. Among Asian and White populations, uptake stands at over 77%. Among African, Caribbean, Mixed, and Other ethnic populations, uptake ranges from 51% to 62%. Uptake also varies across areas with different levels of deprivation, with around 64% uptake in the most deprived areas versus nearly 85% in the least deprived areas.
National and local research has shown that people who are less confident in taking the vaccine tend to have questions about safety and effectiveness. Some of the most common questions include:
Answering these questions has been a key priority in encouraging further uptake and is the focus of the new vaccine facts information resource: www.nhsselondonvaccinefacts.com.
On behalf of the ICS, Bromley’s Borough Director and Consultant in Public Health, Dr Angela Bhan said: “I’m proud of how far we have come in south east London. Reaching one million vaccinations is a fantastic milestone. However, we know there are still people in each cohort who have concerns about taking the vaccine – we wanted to understand why and to ultimately help people feel confident.
“We have taken time to understand the concerns of people in south east London and this information resource has been designed to reflect what people want – the facts about the Covid-19 vaccine.”
Usman Niazi, Chair of the south east London ICS equalities in vaccination taskforce and Chief Financial Officer added: “While the vaccine rollout is a national operation and undertaking, we can’t overlook the role of communities and the fact that people’s experiences with Covid-19 and the vaccine will differ. People being able to identify with and learn from their community members will be a really important way of building confidence.”
The resource profiles several south east Londoners, including sisters Oliematou Crookes and Kadiatu Turay who both had different thoughts about the vaccine.
Oliematou, 30, a public health student, was initially hesitant, though her sister, Kadiatu, 36, an immunisation nurse, encouraged her to look into it more.
“Before taking the vaccine I had my doubts about it, because of all the videos you see on TikTok and WhatsApp that people are sharing are about the side effects. After my sister said, ‘you need to stop watching those videos, you’re a public health student!’ I did my own research. I’m going to graduate in July – I can’t go out there and tell people to take the vaccine if I haven’t taken it. I need to lead by example,” said Oliematou.
Oliematou and Kadiatu’s mother was also hesitant about the vaccine: “She didn’t want to have it, but I explained it to her in a way that she could understand. It’s up to people to make their own decision, but I was so happy that I was able to educate my mother and that she took the vaccine. She was really afraid of taking it because she thought she would have very serious side effects, but when she took it, that didn’t happen. I think we just need to break that cycle,” said Kadiatu.
“For most of us in Black African communities, our religion and our culture shapes who we are,” continued Oliematou. “If you include faith leaders, for example in your education, they can translate the messaging in a way that will resonate with people of their religious beliefs.
“I took the vaccine to not only protect myself, but the people around me. I feel like I’ve protected myself, my children and their grandmother, and I would encourage anyone to go for the vaccine.”
Kadiatu added: “I think if we have people in the community educating others, we can remove a lot of the doubt.”
Over the next weeks Our Healthier South East London ICS will be promoting the new resource to provide straightforward information about the vaccine, answer questions, and continue to encourage people to come forward when it is their turn.