A London story in the Evening Standard by journalist Ross Lydall – local Hammersmith MP leads debate in House of Commons (11th March)
More than 165,000 Londoners aged 65 and older had not received a first jab by the end of February and there are fears that “harder to reach” groups are being swept aside as the programme races through Britons enthusiastic to be vaccinated.
Up to a dozen of the capital’s MPs were taking part in a parliamentary debate this morning on vaccine take-up rates in London, led by Hammersmith Labour MP Andy Slaughter.
Mr Slaughter said that, despite an “exemplary effort” to vaccinate the UK population at pace, less than 80 per cent of people aged 65 to 69 in north-west London had received a first dose. In east London, the latest figure is 75.8 per cent — the lowest in the country.
He said that in some ethnic communities take-up was “below 50 per cent” and added: “That should be ringing alarm bells in Whitehall and it’s certainly ringing alarm bells locally.”
Karen Buck, Labour MP for Westminster North, said there was only 69 per cent take-up of the vaccine in her constituency – the second worst figure in the country.
“It’s a particular concern because the central London economy is so critical to our national economic revival,” she told the hearing.
Catherine West, Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, said she had been told by a GP that he had phoned 30 patients in a day who were reluctant to have the jab. “Of these, only one person was keen to take the vaccine. That is the kind of hostility we are seeing,” she said.
Feryal Clark, Labour MP for Enfield North, said many of her constituents were on the wrong side of the “digital divide”. She said: “Expecting an 80-year-old Kurdish woman to book an appointment over the internet is not going to happen.”
Speaking ahead of the debate, Mr Slaughter said that recent problems with supply had “exacerbated” the national disparity in delivering the jab. He said that the five vaccine centres in his constituency ran out of vaccine last week.
“There is a supply issue, but the real issue is how we deal with the failure to take up the jab,” he told the Standard.
“For me, the wealthy areas of Hammersmith are registering 100 per cent take up but the poorer areas are below 75 per cent. I feel there is a feeling [among Government]: ‘If people can’t be bothered to get the vaccine, that is up to them’, which is irresponsible as a national strategy.
“These are not people who are being bloody-minded about it. These are people the message isn’t reaching, for quite complex reasons.”
He said people who had not taken up the vaccine were often isolated from society, were affected by a language barrier or had mental health issues.
It came as one of London’s biggest NHS hospital trusts revealed that only 37 per cent of its black staff had received the vaccine by March 1, compared with 77 per cent of white staff and 69 per cent of Asian staff. King’s College hospitals said 8,718 of 13,367 staff had been jabbed, but 306 had declined.
Hospital chiefs said the staff vaccination programme was “effective” and it had an “internal objective” to vaccinate 75 per cent of employees, but admitted take-up rates among black staff were “considerably lower”.
A programme has been established to overcome vaccine hesitancy, involving webinars, posters, small group discussions, video clips and use of social media. The two most successful had been “peer to peer” encouragement and sessions where staff can ask questions of trusted senior clinicians.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has promised that the rate of vaccination will double in the coming two months, when a two-week blip in supplies ends this weekend. Today it was reported that the weekly total across the UK would rise from two million to three million.
Mr Zahawi told the debate that vaccine supplies were due to increase sharply. “We have some bumper weeks ahead from the middle of this month,” he said, adding: “No-one will be left behind.”