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Lewisham: Interactive webinars prove to be an effective way of encouraging vaccine confidence

Lewisham focussed on gathering intelligence about vaccination concerns through a survey sent to residents in January, to help it tailor its messaging and communications.

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This is part of a series of case-studies published on 12 March 2021 

  • Interactive vaccine webinars led by the public health director and local GPs are proving to be an effective way of encouraging vaccine confidence
  • One held in early January attracted 500 people, prompting the council to plan dedicated sessions for care homes, re-settled refugees and specific ethnic groups
  • Short videos showing people talking about being vaccinated are also been used to help encourage uptake

Local context

Lewisham is an inner London borough in the south of the capital. It is home to around 300,000 people – nearly half of whom are from ethnic minorities.

There are seven local vaccination clinics – all are in GP surgeries with the exception of one that is run from a leisure centre.

‘We had 500 at our first webinar’

Lewisham has focussed on gathering intelligence about vaccination concerns to help it tailor its messaging and communications. This started in early January when a survey was sent out to residents. The results are now in the process of being analysed.

But already the council has been able to get some evidence on what may deter people from being vaccinated. The council has a network of 170 Covid community champions, including faith leaders and community and voluntary sector representatives, who have been working closely with the council over recent months on everything from promoting good social distancing restrictions to the importance of testing, tracing and isolating.

These champions are now being provided with training and advice on how to answer questions about vaccination. This included a webinar in mid-January, which was led by Director of Public Health Dr Catherine Mbema and two local GPs from ethnic minority groups, which was opened up to members of the public.

Dr Mbema said: “It was incredibly popular – we had 500 people join us. We couldn’t believe it. We would have had more, but that was the limit. The vaccination programme had really just got going in earnest and people had lots of questions. They were asking about side effects in particular – it got us thinking about what we should be including in our communications and the value of these sessions.

It is a really good, interactive format. We’ve had another since then and we are now planning more. We want to do one for re-settled refugees and one for the black community.”

Events have also been held for care workers. “Like many areas we have seen lower uptake among care staff so we have held one for them. It is a young workforce, many women, and they have been asking about the risks if they are breastfeeding or pregnant. There have also been questions about whether the vaccine affects fertility.

“We have been able to answer them, but it has also helped us tailor communications. I do a regular blog and we have also included information on council newsletters and on social media.

“And this is where the Covid champions come in. They are trusted in the community and are in touch with people who may not necessarily see council communications. We are supporting them to talk knowledgeably about this.”

Lewisham has received funding under the government’s Covid champions funding, which will be used to support the existing champions as well as recruiting new ones.

Dr Mbema said: “There are several things we are looking to do to expand the reach. We want to recruit some professional champions drawn from the care and health workforce and some younger champions – the vaccination programme is progressing at speed so it is important we keep one eye on the younger age groups where uptake could be lower. We want to be ready. We will also be evaluating the work we are doing to measure its impact so we can keep learning.”

Using videos to promote vaccination

Another strand of the work tackling vaccine hesitancy involves the recording of short videos of people who have had the vaccine. These include people who are respected and trusted in the local community.

In one of them Lewisham Mayor Damien Egan, who has volunteered at a vaccination centres, speaks about how quick and easy it is. It features a social care worker, Ade Jumoke, who says she is “very, very glad” she came forward. “It was done in just five minutes – I couldn’t believe it.”

Meanwhile, Councillor Brenda Dacres, who is well known in the black community, has spoken about her delight that her parents were vaccinated, pointing out that as members of the Windrush Generation they were keen to be vaccinated because of the high number of deaths seen among Black, Asian and ethnic minorities.

“We have tried to create a positive narrative around vaccination, showing how easy it is and how important it is. We have promoted this on social media and through other channels,” added Ms Mbema.

She said the rollout of the second doses is also being seen as an opportunity to reach out to those who have not taken up the option of the first dose.

“We ran a webinar for one of our largest care providers – it was just before the second doses were offered. We think this could be a good way to improve uptake for the first dose. It could make the difference for those who hesitated first time round so going forward we are looking at doing more of these bespoke ones."