Cllr Ketan Sheth
The ‘mass vaccination event’ at Twickenham Stadium on the Spring Bank Holiday was a proud day for the NHS and local government. The North West London NHS and Hounslow Council, supported by the Rugby Football Union, pulled off this remarkable day with less than a week to plan, following a surge in Covid cases in Hounslow.
The communications around the event included the obvious routes of national, local and social media, but also included targeted door knocking in Hounslow. During the day, as it became clear that there were likely to be some vaccines left over, the local NHS took the wise decision to open up the offer to anyone aged 18 and over and this was quickly picked up and reported by the BBC, Sky and other media outlets. The result was a huge spike in demand towards the end of the day. By the close, over 11,000 people had been vaccinated – a record for a single day at one venue in the UK. Those behind this effort are to be hugely congratulated.
There are three lessons I think we can learn from this remarkable event. First, it may be a myth that young people don’t want to get vaccinated. Most of those turning up when the offer was extended were under 30. Media reports talked of a ‘festival atmosphere’ and those who attended have confirmed to me that there was a real ‘buzz’ among the young people coming forward. A number of young people turned up with older family members, having persuaded them belatedly that they should be vaccinated. While time will tell, this does suggest that there may be more enthusiasm among younger people for getting vaccinated than had been previously suggested.
Second, and perhaps more contentiously, the quicker we open up to all age groups, the easier it will be to coordinate the vaccine effort. Had the whole day been open to anyone aged over 18, it is likely the demand would have been even higher throughout the day. While the initial targeting of older and more vulnerable people made sense, it becomes harder to justify as we move down through the age groups – and harder for the NHS to coordinate and promote vaccination. We might also want to think about vaccinating people at their convenience wherever they live – while the event was targeted at Hounslow residents and others in the NHS ‘North West London’ sector, I know people from Richmond were not turned away.
Finally, what we can learn is that if everyone pulls together and works as one team, remarkable things can be achieved, even in short space of time. This is a lesson that extends beyond Covid-19 and the vaccination programme – and bodes well for ‘integrated care systems’, in which the NHS and local authorities are expected to work in statutory partnerships in the years ahead.
Cllr Ketan Sheth is Chair of Brent Council‘s Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee and Chair of NW London Joint Health Overview & Scrutiny Committee