Portsmouth City Council: Taking vaccines out to the homeless

The NHS Hampshire and Isle of Wight Covid Vaccination Programme, which incorporates local government public health representation, has set up an inequalities sub-group to its strategic board, which has been looking at those that are a particular risk of not taking up the vaccine. 

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

  • A vaccination team working from a roving clinic has gone out on to the streets to vaccinate rough sleepers 
  • It is part of a wider focus on inequalities which is also seeing a push on engaging ethnic minorities 
  • Myth-busing videos have been produced by community leaders 

Local context 

Portsmouth is home to nearly 240,000 - one in six of whom is from an ethnic minority group.  

There are five primary care networks, each of which has a nominated GP practice to offer the Covid vaccines from. Two community pharmacies are also providing vaccination as is St James Hospital, which acts as a community hub. 

The main hospital in the city – Queen Alexandra, is Portsmouth's dedicated hospital hub where health and care staff have been offered the vaccine. 

Using a roving clinic to increase uptake 

The NHS Hampshire and Isle of Wight Covid Vaccination Programme, which incorporates local government public health representation set up an inequalities sub-group to its strategic board, which has been looking at those that are a particular risk of not taking up the vaccine. 

One project run in Portsmouth involved encouraging the local homeless population to get vaccinated.

Led by Alan Knobel, the council’s substance misuse commissioner it also involved nurses from the Brunel Primary Care Network which hosts the homeless healthcare team, homeless outreach workers employed by the Society of St James, and the fire service which provided a community vehicle.

These street sessions took place at the same time as a well-attended soup run, provided by a local voluntary group 'Helping Hands'. The homeless outreach workers engaged and supported people to access the vehicle. 

The vehicle visited an area of the city in February where rough sleepers were known to pass through. A total of 26 rough sleepers were vaccinated in the first session with a second session planned. In-reach visits to three homeless hostels were also organised with another 57 vaccinated through this route.

Public Health Consultant Claire Currie said: "We have worked closely with partners in the city to build a local picture of how the vaccination programme is working in the city and for our local residents.

"We are co-terminus with the CCG, which helps, and we share the same building, though of course we are working remotely at the moment.  

“Everyone knows each other and that has meant we have had a really close relationship with colleagues in all parts of the vaccination delivery throughout. We have worked together on improving uptake using our links with the community." 

The Liberal Democrat Leader of Portsmouth City Council, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, also met with local Mosque leaders to discuss concerns and encourage vaccine uptake. 

This outreach model was able to reach those who may otherwise have missed out. It has been a really good model and is something we hope to use in the future.” 

Improving uptake among ethnic minority communities 

It was very clear to the council early on that take-up in ethnic minority groups was likely to be lower. The council included a question in its December residents’ survey about intention to have the Covid vaccine. 

It showed over 80 per cent of white communities were likely to take up the offer of vaccination, but for ethnic minority groups it was 20 percentage points lower. 

Ms Currie said: “It was not unexpected as these findings mirrored some of the national survey findings but we very quickly started to prioritise engagement with black and minority ethnic groups. We spoke to our black and minority ethnic staff network – most of them are residents themselves – to discuss some of the issues.  

“And then we held a webinar jointly organised between the council and Portsmouth HIVE, the umbrella group for the community and voluntary sector, with community leaders and the voluntary sectors. I spoke as well as a local GP and the Lord Mayor. It was very much a two-way conversation. 

“What we have focussed on is encouraging a positive narrative about getting the vaccine. Local community leaders have been posting videos and making social media posts when they have been getting the vaccine. Others have produced materials to bust some of the myths.” 

How the community has stepped up 

One of the videos was produced by community activist Sumel Chowdhury. He was joined by other prominent figures to myth-bust misinformation about Covid jabs via a video, which has since been viewed by thousands of people. 

Mosque leaders, doctors and Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan all featured in the video that was translated into different languages. Mr Chowdhury, who is a member of Portsmouth's Bangladeshi community, intended to reach people from ethnic minority groups, however, he said the message was relevant to everyone. 

I heard from news outlets, as well as what I was seeing on social media, that a lot of people were still worried about the vaccine because they had been bombarded with so much misinformation online. 

“The video was so well received, it has been shared thousands of times across WhatsApp and I've had so many people call me to say they've sent it on to their friends and family.” 

Ms Currie said the way the community has come together has been vital. Portsmouth has not received funding under the government’s Community Champions Fund. 

Ms Currie added: “We would have liked the money of course. But that will not stop what we are doing. HIVE has been wonderful. All through the pandemic they have worked side-by-side with the council and NHS.” 

Other steps are also being considered including pop-in clinics in sites of worship or other sites to reach communities. “We want to make sure we reach out in every way possible. Even if someone does not come forward initially, they may in the future. We should not forget that.” 

Contact details 

Claire Currie 

Public Health Consultant 

Portsmouth City Council 

[email protected]