“The vaccine roll-out has been a huge success so far and councils are playing a key role in coordinating the rollout on the ground, with their unrivalled knowledge and connections with their communities helping to get the word out about the vaccine, using trusted local leaders to answer residents’ questions and dispel any myths".
Sports stadiums, places of worship and even a former nightclub are among the venues secured by councils to help boost COVID-19 vaccination efforts, alongside offers of free parking, transport and friendly advice to get people protected as soon as possible.
The Government is on course to meet its target to vaccine the first four priority groups as identified by the JCVI by February 15.
The success of this unprecedented nationwide rollout has seen local authorities across the country playing a fundamental role alongside the NHS in keeping residents informed and able to make their appointments safely and on time. Volunteers including community champions and faith leaders are working alongside council staff to reach out to vulnerable people and those from black and ethnic minorities, to provide reassurance and answer any questions.
The Local Government Association, which represents councils across England, said practical offers of help such as free lifts to vaccination centres, waiving parking charges, online Q&As and translating information into different languages is making a real impact on encouraging uptake locally, in line with the priority groups.
Councils know their communities best and have also used their own facilities or existing relationships with local landlords to set up new vaccination sites at short notice, such as the Halliwell Jones rugby stadium in Warrington or the former Debenhams store in Folkestone, now known as Folca, while providing directions and managing queues.
In St Albans, the district council helped the NHS set up a much-needed vaccination centre at a building which had just been vacated by the former leaseholder, a nightclub. It is in easy reach of a large population.
Councils have also been reaching out to rough sleepers and those who are at risk of homelessness in their areas to ensure they are registered with local GPs and able to access a vaccination appointment.
People living on the streets are among the most vulnerable in society, lacking access to healthcare and the ability to self-isolate safely, with many also having underlying health conditions.
Cllr James Jamieson, LGA Chairman, said:
“Vaccination is the only certain route out of this pandemic and the national effort has brought our collective community spirit to the fore.
“The vaccine roll-out has been a huge success so far and councils are playing a key role in coordinating the rollout on the ground, with their unrivalled knowledge and connections with their communities helping to get the word out about the vaccine, using trusted local leaders to answer residents’ questions and dispel any myths.
“Vaccination centres have been swiftly set up at short notice while councils have introduced other helpful measures where possible, such as providing free parking in council-owned car parks and offering lifts to those without their own transport.
“They will continue to do all they can to make sure everyone can safely and easily receive their vaccination on time.”
Housing Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said:
“Councils are playing a vital role in the vaccination programme that has now seen over 13 million people receive their first COVID-19 vaccine.
“From helping set up vaccination centres in sports centres, places of worship and theatre buildings, to using their local networks to ensure accurate information reaches all members of our communities, councils have risen to the challenge.
“Councils are saving lives by ensuring more members of our communities have access to vaccines quickly and safely.”
St Albans City and District Council The council offered the NHS a building, Batchwood Hall, that it had recently leased to a nightclub as a site for vaccinations in the district. Working with local GP surgeries, the council cleared the site ready for use in just a weekend. This included performing deep cleans, installing internet connections and clearing cloak rooms/bar areas. Since opening in December, over 12,000 vaccinations have been administered at the site.
Kirklees Council The council redeployed staff to help work in vaccination centres as well as to provide transport to residents unable to get to their vaccination appointment. Staff from outdoor centres have helped give lifts to vulnerable patients to attend their appointments, as well as using council vehicles to rescue vaccine shipments stuck in snow and adverse weather.
Folkestone & Hythe District Council The council offered the use of Folca – the former Debenhams site in Folkestone – to be used as a vaccination centre. With support from the local NHS, the site is now open seven days a week and has provided thousands of vaccinations a week since it opened. The authority’s Civic Centre is also being used as a drive-through vaccination centre.
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough City Council The councils are working together with their partners to tackle vaccine hesitancy within local communities. They have been working with 30 community champions, the interfaith network and the voluntary sector to ensure important messages about the vaccination process reaches a range of different communities, often making use of WhatsApp and Facebook groups. Their Adult Social care teams are also working closely with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group to ensure social care staff on the frontline have access to vaccinations.
Wyre Council The council has offered up two local venues, the Thornton Little Theatre and the Poulton Civic Centre for use as vaccination centres. The local theatre had been unable to open for much of the pandemic and the council found a new use for the venue to help vaccinate thousands of local residents.
Southend on Sea Borough Council The council, along with a number of other local authorities across the country, have relaxed parking enforcement or offered free parking in local car parks near to large vaccination centres, as well as provide volunteer marshals to help direct residents.
Birmingham City Council The council has recruited 677 COVID community champions so far and 19 organisations to work throughout the city to help dispel myths around the vaccination process and to drive take up of the vaccine. These champions are specifically working through personal and professional networks to disseminate information into local communities. The community champions are supported through weekly briefings and training sessions led by the council’s public health team.