Oldham council: ‘we are the safety net – capturing those left behind in vaccine rollout’

Oldham council is working closely with communities leaders and key partners to address vaccine hesitancy amongst its ethnic minority population.

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This is part of a series of case-studies published on 7 April 2021 

  • Oldham is working closely with communities that have low vaccine uptake
  • Media assets are distributed to community leaders and training has been provided to Imams and other faith leaders to address vaccine hesitancy
  • Follow-up phone calls are being made to those who have not come forward for vaccination

Local context

The metropolitan borough of Oldham is part of the Greater Manchester region and is home to more than 230,000 people. There is a significant ethnic minority population with 10 per cent of local people of Pakistani origin and seven per cent Bangladeshi.

There are six primary care networks in the borough and each has its own local vaccination clinic. The Royal Oldham Hospital is also a vaccination hub, while there is a mass vaccination centre at the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, which local residents have access to.

Addressing vaccine hesitancy in BAME groups

Mike Barker, Strategic Director of Commissioning and Chief Operating Officer at Oldham Council and Oldham Clinical Commissioning Group, has been concerned about uptake in certain communities – and is making it a priority to address vaccine hesitancy. 

“We have a significant ethnic minority population – not just Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, but also African and eastern European and we initially saw significantly lower take up in these groups. 

“Overall we have done nearly all over 60s, and have delivered first vaccinations to more than 100,000 Oldham-registered patients in total. But initially uptake in some Bangladeshi and Pakistani groups was lower. That really worried us. They have been at higher risk of infection – working in jobs that put them at risk, living in houses of multiple occupancy with multiple generations all under one roof.”

To tackle this, Oldham has been working with community leaders. A key forum has been the Equality Advisory Group, which includes key partners from Age UK, the local Mosques Council and BAME groups.

An online Coronavirus “assets bank” has been set up with all the latest videos and artwork about the vaccine programme, including materials translated in to other languages such as Urdu and Punjabi. This is shared weekly with faith and community leaders across the area, so they can disseminate information in their own networks.

Mr Barker said: “These groups are not looking at traditional media – the local papers, council emails or digital media. So the idea of the media assets are that the community leaders we are working with – who are drawn from all sections of society from faith leaders to community groups – can share them. They put them on closed Facebook groups and WhatsApp pages, which are avenues we do not have access to as a council.”

Oldham is now building on this after receiving £500,000 of funding under the government’s Community Champions Fund.

This is being invested in a range of projects. One involves working with the local Chai Ladies group, which represents South Asian women in the borough. They were given money earlier in the pandemic to make phone calls stressing the social distancing restrictions and need to get testing. This is now being repeated for vaccination.

Training has been delivered for Imams and pastors, by GPs but organised by the council. It came after a survey in early January by Oldham Mosques Council showed a lack of trust in vaccine testing and ingredients and the government in general.

The training materials include information about how the vaccines were made and how they work. There are also a number of myth-busting slides tackling commonly-shared disinformation such as that the vaccine affects fertility, that it contains animal products and that it cannot be taken during Ramadan.

Mr Barker said: “There is a lot of misunderstanding out there so we want to equip trusted individuals with the right information so they are confident discussing the issues. We believe it is not necessarily the older people, but the younger adults who are questioning it. That is what we are picking up on.”

On the lookout for other barriers

But Mr Barker said it is also important to not assume every problem with uptake is down to vaccine hesitancy. “We are looking at what structural issues are also in place. It is easy to assume it is all related to vaccine hesitancy, but we have been looking more closely at areas where we have lower uptake. 

“One factor we found was that those areas were more likely to rely on text messaging rather than phone calls. Text messages may be easier to ignore. What is more, not everyone is digitally savvy or the text might not be in the person’s first language.”

To address this, the council’s Covid helpline is providing a service to ring round those who have not come forward. “This service is having a significant impact. It provides an opportunity to discuss why the person has not been vaccinated. There could be very practical issues such as transport. We’ve got a partnership with Age UK so can arrange COVID-19-secure transport to collect someone.

“The vaccine programme is being done at such pace – that is understandable. But it does risk leaving some groups behind. We are coming in behind to capture as many as we can. If we don’t the risk is this is going to widen and exacerbate inequalities that we may never then be able to shift.”

Pop-up vaccination clinics

Other work is also going on. The council is helping with staffing, in particular finding marshals and volunteers to help at the vaccination clinics. 

Mr Barker said: “We have not got many staff we can redeploy, but with our community network and knowledge of temp agencies we are helping to ensure there is support there for the core vaccination teams.

“We also helping to arrange pop-up vaccination clinics in mosques and community venues – taking the vaccination programme right out into the communities. This has been very successful, with one pop-up clinic at Oldham’s Millennium Centre vaccinating more than 1,100 people in just one day.

We also vaccinated more than 30 Imams at one of our first pop-up clinics, which was key in driving up confidence in the vaccine and encouraging more people from our Muslim community to take it up.

“Our door-to-door engagement team, which we use to support people who are self-isolating and have done work in communities when infection rates are high, are also engaging people about vaccination and  promoting these pop-up clinics when they run.

“The vaccination programme may be led by the NHS, but local government is playing an absolutely crucial role too.”