A partnership between the council, school immunisation service, local NHS and community pharmacy ensured a smooth and quick rollout of vaccination to children and young people in the West Yorkshire borough of Kirklees.
Over half of 12 to 15-year-olds have had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine – and with young people now eligible for a second dose the area has the perfect blueprint to continue the vaccination programme.
Dealing with fainting and anxiety
The school vaccination programme in Kirklees hit the ground running September. The first school visit was on 22 September – just nine days after it was announced children aged 12 to 15 would be vaccinated.
The delivery of vaccines was subcontracted to Medicare, a local pharmacy service that has run pop-up vaccination clinics in Kirklees. But its team of nurses worked closely with social enterprise Locala, which runs the school vaccination service, and the council’s public health and learning and early support teams.
Locala Operational Manager Ruth Aseervatham said: “The school immunisation service simply couldn’t do the COVID-19 vaccination programme alongside the flu and HPV demands. But we helped provide support throughout and for the first few weeks our staff went in alongside the Medicare team to help.
They were not used to working in schools. It is very different from vaccinating adults – children can get quite anxious and have needle-phobia and there is a different way of communicating with them.
“Once we had done a few schools they were able to run the clinics themselves. Although when the special schools were done we always had a member of our staff to accompany them.”
Ms Aseervatham said there were a number of lessons learnt as the clinics were rolled out. “Fainting is always an issue with children – and we found there was more in the sessions we did just before lunch. So the team started taking along some biscuits and asking the children if they had had breakfast.
We also found children who had just done PE or cross country seemed more likely to get dizzy so we communicated with schools that this was best avoided just before vaccination. But we were very pleased with how it went.
In fact it ran so well that Kirklees became the first part of West Yorkshire to finish the schools vaccination programme when the last school was visited on 9 November. More than 40 schools and settings had been visited.
Good communication crucial to success
A crucial part of the success was the communication with schools and their cooperation, said Schools and Settings Relationship Manager Angela Scholefield.
“The schools were fantastic and really worked hard to make this successful. Schools played a huge part in helping to obtain consent from parents. They provided us with the space to run the vaccination sessions and provided staff on the day to help the sessions to run as smoothly as possible. In some cases this was done at short notice, at a time that was already an incredibly busy one for schools.
“We were very lucky in that the headteacher at one of the schools we visited in the first week of vaccination produced a guide advising on the steps that she took, how she organised the day, including how the school managed the order in which the pupils attended the vaccination hall. The head shared this information with other school leaders – we are sure that has helped ease some of their concerns.
“We all worked really hard to help schools have everything that they needed in advance and tried to allow as much time as possible to answer any queries they may have had prior to their schedules date of vaccinations. A detailed information pack was sent to schools once their dates were confirmed, which included consent forms that schools sent out and collected back, a letter for parents of both those pupils eligible as well as a letter for parents of those who would be due to turn 12 within the first few weeks of the vaccination process, which explained the process and gave links to information they may have needed.
“We also gave schools suggested text message reminders – one to notify parents that the letters and forms would be coming home, another was a gentle reminder and finally a follow-up to send 48 hours before we visited to be notified if any circumstances had changed.
“At that point we had high rates of COVID-19 in our schools, which meant we had large numbers of pupils who would not be eligible to receive the vaccine.
“Then 24 hours before the immunisation team were due in the school, schools were asked to provide approximate consent figures to ensure enough vaccines were taken along. However, the teams always factored an extra 10 per cent just in case there were any last-minute consents that were provided on the day.
“I spent a lot of time speaking to heads and senior leaders on the phone, explaining the process to schools to ensure that they had full understanding. It really made a difference, leaders were reassured knowing they could ask question and get the answers they needed.
“We even worked with schools which we hadn’t previously worked on vaccinations with before. We now have a relationship with them – and that may mean we can work on further vaccinations programmes at those schools in the future.”
The combined approach resulted in a very impressive uptake. In total 39 per cent of pupils aged 12 to 15 were vaccinated in school. But Kirklees did not stop there. After each school had been visited, a further letter was sent to parent advising them they could still get their children vaccinated by visiting community clinics and mass vaccination centres.
There was even a bespoke service for children provided at the John Smith’s Stadium, home to the area’s mass vaccination centre. It was run by Locala nurses and meant children who were home schooled, wanted their parents with them or had specific needs, such as learning disabilities and autism, could be vaccinated in quiet and private areas.
Ms Aseervatham said: “The nurses are really skilled at working with children. Some of the children were nervous. We had nurses singing to some as they gave them the vaccine. We have tried to make it as easy and comfortable as possible for children to get vaccinated.”
It meant by the end of November overall uptake had crept up over 50 per cent.
“At this stage we don’t know for sure what we will do for the second doses as that has only recently been announced, but we know this approach works and if we use it again it will help ensure we can vaccinate the children quickly and efficiently,” Ms Aseervatham added.
Public Health Consultant Emily Parry-Harries said the work that had been done had been “phenomenal”. “We got a small group of like-minded passionate people together, set a difficult task and they, as a team, rose to the challenge. We have learnt so much about collaborative working through this process – and the potential for working together in a non-COVID-19 response is huge.”
Public Health Consultant