Lancashire's frontline care workers urged to get Covid vaccine

Lancashire’s frontline care workforce should be “a role model for the rest of the population” by taking up the offer of a coronavirus vaccine.

Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 8:32 am
Updated Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 8:36 am

That was the appeal from the county’s director of public health, who said that more needed to be done to build “vaccine confidence” amongst those employed in caring roles, particularly younger age groups.

Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi was speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) after telling a recent meeting of the Lancashire health and wellbeing board that the take-up rate amongst frontline workers in the county was “a bit of a problem” - and that some staff needed “encouraging, motivating and incentivising” to be vaccinated.

Frontline health and social care employees were the second-highest priority group identified by the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) - and so were all offered their jabs within the first few weeks of the vaccine programme beginning back in December.

Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi says the vaccine is about protecting others, as well as the individuals who receive it

The weekly dashboard of NHS vaccination data does not show the proportion of healthcare workers to have received a vaccine, while the figures for council social care employees are complicated by the inclusion of personal assistants, directly-employed by individuals in need of support, about whom it has proved difficult to collate accurate information.

However, the LDRS has obtained separate stats from Lancashire County Council which estimate that around two in three of its own frontline adult and children’s social care staff have so far been vaccinated.

That is above the 56 percent which the latest NHS data shows have received a vaccine amongst staff at indepemden registered domiciliary care providers in the county.

Dr. Karunanithi said that he was aware of a range of potential barriers to vaccination for those working in the sector, which might sound simple to overcome - but were often fundamental as to whether an individual ultimately received their jab.

“Most of the issues are around access - people who don’t have a car or can’t take time off work. A lot of these workers are lower paid, so it’s not always convenient for them to go to the place where the vaccines are being administered.

“There is also the problem of needle phobia, as well as concern over fertility issues [caused by the vaccine], although there is no evidence of that.

“As we move down the age groups, including the health and care workforce, vaccine confidence is lower - we are not an outlier in Lancashire in that respect.

“However, the vaccines are increasingly shown not just to protect individuals, but also prevent ongoing transmission.

“And as frontline workers, we have a duty not only to protect ourselves, but also the people we care for,” Dr. Karunanithi said.

In order to encourage uptake, he suggested that staff in the sector could be given time off to be vaccinated, while access might be made easier via the use of more pop-up community vaccination facilities, such as those which the LDRS this week revealed are planned for several mosques in the county.

Dr. Karunanithi also warned that a low uptake rate amongst younger age cohorts in the general population would be a “massive risk for us”.

“Although over a third of our population are vaccinated, to get herd immunity with this type of virus, we need somewhere between 85 to 90 percent of the population to have an immune response,” he told the health and wellbeing board.

As a small proportion even of the vaccinated population would not be able to generate such a response, members heard that the target for take-up of the jabs should actually be as high as 95 percent.

That level has been achieved in some of the oldest cohorts in some parts of Lancashire and South Cumbria, with an average of almost 91 percent among the over-60s across the area’s eight clinical commissioning group (CCG) localities.

Lancashire’s local authorities have received a collective £2m in funding for programmes to tackle low vaccine uptake.

Commenting on the vaccination rate within its social care workforce, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for adult services Graham Gooch said the aim was for all frontline employees to receive the jab.

"We are being very proactive in encouraging our own frontline social care staff to take up the offer of a vaccination to protect themselves and those they support from Covid-19. This includes tailored conversations and support to maximise uptake as we aim to achieve 100 percent of staff in front line delivery roles vaccinated.

"The NHS figures by themselves don’t tell a clear story on vaccination numbers among our own council staff.

"Our own council figures rely on staff telling us they have been vaccinated. So far, we know that more than 63 percent of eligible county council frontline adult and children's social care employees have had the vaccine, a similar rate to other comparable councils. We believe many more staff will have had their first jabs but have not yet reported that fact to their managers.

"The number of vaccinated staff of course continues to increase daily as the process of booking and attending appointments becomes better known and easier to navigate and as individual circumstances change," County Cllr Gooch added.