Cllrs Jim Dickson and Jon Davies at the Hurley Clinic in Kennington
Cllrs Jim Dickson and Jon Davies at the Hurley Clinic in Kennington

Cllr Jim Dickson is the Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care (job-share) and a councillor in Herne Hill ward. 

It was fantastic to see our magnificent local NHS trusts last week administer the Pfizer\BioNTech Covid vaccine – the world’s first – to people in our local south London communities. And yesterday I was delighted to be able to thank doctors at the Hurley Clinic in Kennington for being the first GPs in the UK to do the same for their patients.  Starting with those aged over 80, alongside frontline health and care workers, the vaccine will roll out over the coming weeks to a range of people allocated according to need. If all goes well we can have genuine hope that the vaccine will have been made available to nearly all the population over 50 by the end of March and that we’ll be on the way to an immunised population by the summer.

Many us were moved by the words of 91 year old Stockwell resident Martin Kenyon who told  interviewers last week after receiving the vaccine at Guys Hospital that he had ‘lived this long that there’s no point in dying now’ and wanted to be around to hug his granddaughters for years to come.  This is the key for all of us to unlocking our lives and the economy once more.

But as we all know life isn’t that simple. Not everyone accepts the need for vaccination. Some fear the vaccine is an unproven new drug and others that it has been approved too quickly. Whilst a heartening 67% of UK residents according to YouGov say they are likely or very likely to take a vaccine this still leaves at least 33% who either don’t know or are fairly or very unlikely to take it. Beyond a small irrational fringe of anti-vaxers who make up at most 10%, this leaves nearly a quarter of the population who me might define as ‘vaccine hesitant’ and will need convincing that the immunisation is safe.

We’ve heard this hesitation articulated in our communities as questions ranging from whether vaccines been tested adequately and what side effects might we experience through queries about  risks to people with compromised immune system and worries about whether it will give protection for long.

Some people in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities – already experiencing significantly worse health outcomes than the rest of the population and affected to a much greater degree by Covid  (and in some cases 2 to 3 times more likely to die) – wonder too whether the institutional racism experienced in every other walk of life might mean the vaccine is riskier for them that the white population.

It is vital therefore that Lambeth and other councils work closely with their communities to explore the perceived barriers to vaccination, to understand how vaccine misgivings might be overcome and to find ways to ensure immunisation is accepted as a vital pathway to healing our Covid ravaged boroughs.

On top of important messages –  that getting vaccinated is a way of helping those most medically vulnerable among us and that we all need to play our part to neutralise the Covid threat – the success of any collaboration between the NHS\council’s and communities will be to find the people and the networks who can influence community attitudes to immunisation.

In Lambeth our faith communities, local care and medical leaders, cultural pacesetters and our already trained and developed community connectors will play key roles. Using the right language and deployment of nudge techniques (vaccine badging and passporting perhaps) will be crucial. We’ll also need to ensure our Portuguese and Latinx residents are fully integrated into the campaign – building on great work already done by the Stockwell Partnership on Portuguese wellbeing.

It would be a huge injustice if communities already blighted by Covid were excluded from the hope of a return to something like a normal life that the vaccine holds.  It’s up to us in Lambeth and in councils across south London to make sure 2021 is the year everyone – without exception – gets the chance to build again.

If you have ideas you want to share with us about how to build a campaign to maximise vaccine take up drop us a line at jdickson@lambeth.gov.uk

Cllr Jim Dickson

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