To help tackle the low vaccine uptake in Newcastle's working age men, Newcastle City Council and the local NHS worked closely with the city’s football club through to help increase vaccination rates.
By early summer a noticeable gender gap had opened up in vaccine uptake in Newcastle with a 20 per cent difference between working age women than men in areas of with the lowest uptake overall.
The difference was largely driven by men aged 30 to 49. To help tackle this, Newcastle City Council and the local NHS has worked closely with the city’s football club through its partnership with the Newcastle United Foundation.
Using players as vaccine role models
The work with Newcastle United has taken two forms – getting the players themselves to promote the vaccine and setting up vaccination clinics on match days.
During the summer players were offered vaccinations at the club’s training ground and clips and videos of players such as the midfielder Isaac Hayden, striker Joelinton and defender Ciaran Clark were circulated on social media and in local media of them having the jab and talking about it.
In one of the promotional videos, Isaac Hayden praises the “amazing job” the NHS and council were doing and stressed how easy it was to get vaccinated. “I was in and out so quickly. It was very well organised.
"I'd encourage anyone who hasn't had their jab, or who needs their second jab, to have it as soon as they can and protect themselves as we hopefully return to some normality."
Former player Shaka Hislop, who is a prominent black figure, perhaps most notably due to his role in setting up the Show Racism the Red Card charity, was also featured, talking about his experiences getting the vaccine as part of the council’s efforts to broaden its engagement and help increase uptake in communities most at risk from serious illness or lower vaccination coverage.
Assistant Director of Public Health Lorna Smith said: “The players are role models for fans across the city and we thought using the power of that could help encourage and persuade people who had not yet come forward for the jab to do so.
“Reasons for not having the vaccine are varied and often personal, so it is hard to know why the uptake was markedly lower in working-age men – I think certainly the messaging in the early days of the pandemic that the virus was only a serious risk to older people played a role.
“People started thinking they were not at any risk, but we’ve had feedback that they may have also been more reluctant to share fears about the vaccine, which is related to broader health-seeking behaviour gender differences.”
‘We’ve vaccinated hundreds on matchdays’
Alongside this promotional work, the council and NHS also organised for one of the city’s three mobile vaccination buses to set up outside St James’ Park Stadium on three matchdays. More than 300 people have been vaccinated at these events.
Ms Smith said: “You can really reach a lot of people with the buses. We have gazebos we can set up alongside them so you can be vaccinating people in the bus and in the gazebo at the same time.
Matchdays worked perfectly because you have so many people congregating together and by associating it with the football club you are able to engage with these groups in a way you would not if it was just in an NHS health centre or other community location.
The mobile buses are a core part of Newcastle’s work to increase uptake among communities where there is hesitancy. Alongside visiting the football club, they have also been sent to other targeted locations based on vaccine uptake data, including areas of high deprivation, leisure centres and the city’s Grainger Market.
The work is coordinated by the council’s Vaccine Inequalities Group, which is led by public health. It includes a team of outreach staff who work alongside the vaccinators to engage people. The group meet weekly to analyse the data, breaking it down by age, gender and ethnicity to see where efforts should be targeted.
Work is major factor too
As well as the link up with the football club, Newcastle has also worked closely with employers to improve uptake among men.
Ms Smith said: “Our research showed that the idea of protecting the wider community was not a huge pull for men, but being able to go to work and avoid potentially losing income by having to isolate certainly was. When the guidance changed in the summer to allow the vaccinated to avoid self-isolation if they came into close contact with an infected person, we saw a rise in the numbers of men coming forward.”
In partnership with Northumberland and North Tyneside councils, Newcastle supported a webinar for employers which are part of the Better Health @ Work Award network to encourage them to support staff to get vaccinated.
They were presented with information about how vaccination can reduce absence from work, keep employees healthy and prevent outbreaks at work, which risk spreading into the wider community and infecting more vulnerable residents
They were also urged to take steps such as providing paid time off for staff to get the jab and agreeing to pay staff if they had to take time off for the side-effects.
Work is also under way to reach out to older people who have not been vaccinated – both men and women. Ms Smith said: “It is fortunately a small proportion overall, but of course it is significant because these are the age groups that are most at risk.
“Some people are concerned about going out into busy places or how to get to a vaccination centre. So we have an arrangement with a local taxi firm to provide lifts for people if that helps. Our outreach workers can also accompany them if that makes a difference too.
“It is a gradual and slow process, but bit by bit more people, and in particular more men and underserved communities, are coming forward. There is now no longer a significant gap between men and women. That is really pleasing to see.”
Assistant Director of Public Health
Newcastle City Council