Councils’ unstinting work to help meet the Government’s target of vaccinating the first four priority groups has earned the praise of a Cabinet minister.
Councils’ vital role in the unprecedented national effort to ensure more than 15 million people had received their first COVID-19 vaccine has been praised by Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick MP.
The landmark achievement, completed in 10 weeks, met the Government’s target of vaccinating the first four priority groups, as identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
Using their unrivalled knowledge and connections with their communities, councils – alongside the NHS – have played a fundamental role in coordinating the vaccine rollout on the ground. They have set up vaccination centres swiftly and at short notice, used trusted local leaders to answer residents’ questions and dispel myths, and translated information into different languages to encourage uptake of the vaccine locally.
Councils have also introduced other practical measures, such as providing free parking in council-owned car parks, offering lifts to those without their own transport, and providing volunteer marshals to help direct residents. Sports stadiums, places of worship, and even a former nightclub are among the venues secured by councils to help boost COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
Mr Jenrick said councils have “risen to the challenge” and are “saving lives by ensuring more members of our communities have access to vaccines quickly and safely”.
In Swindon, the council-owned railway museum, Steam, was turned into a mass vaccination centre for the town, and the council has recently started a new phone service to follow up with those who have not turned up for their appointments.
St Albans City and District Council helped the NHS set up a much-needed vaccination centre in a building that, until last year, was operating as a nightclub. Working with local GP surgeries, the council cleared the site, ready for use, in just a weekend, performing deep cleans, installing internet connections, and clearing cloakrooms and bar areas. Since opening, more than 12,000 vaccinations have been administered there.
Volunteers, including community champions and faith leaders, are also working alongside council staff to reach out to vulnerable people, and those from black and ethnic minority communities, to provide reassurance and answer questions. In Birmingham, the city council has recruited 677 covid community champions and 19 organisations to help dispel myths about the vaccination process, and to drive take-up of the vaccine.
Councils have also continued to reach out to rough sleepers and those at risk of homelessness in their areas, ensuring they are registered with local GPs and able to access a vaccination appointment.
Local authorities have risen to the challenge throughout the pandemic, providing crucial local leadership, and delivering services that are absolutely essential to protect lives and livelihoods, and keep communities running. They have also continued to lead the way on test and trace, distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), shielding the vulnerable, delivering food parcels, managing food banks, providing support and grants to businesses, and finding new ways to house the homeless. All of this on top of continuing to provide communities with the everyday services they need and expect.
The vaccine is our only certain route out of this pandemic, and councils will continue to do all they can to ensure everyone can receive their vaccination safely, easily and on time.