In many ways Southwark had had a head start on the vaccine rollout.
As one of the first boroughs to be hit by the virus’ widespread transmission, and routinely having one of the country’s highest rates of infection in the first few weeks of the pandemic, public health officials knew the borough was vulnerable to subsequent waves and had a large ‘at risk’ population.
COVID-19 had also highlighted the ‘health inequalities’ – or differences in life expectancy and health overall, but also risk to new threats like viruses – that already existed in such a densely populated, inner London area.
Right from the beginning of the pandemic it was obvious that families living in overcrowded housing and frontline workers, carers and people scraping a living on low pay couldn’t avoid – or couldn’t afford to avoid – the virus.
It is a cruel twist that many of these groups most at risk are now those more likely to refuse a jab. The data, showing the huge disparity between uptake in Dulwich Village versus Peckham is stark – and really quite frightening.
The council and local clinical commissioning group has worked hard to encourage eligible people to say yes to vaccinations, and to ensure people without internet access or those who are disabled or housebound do get jabs.
Even if this hasn’t run as smoothly as we would have liked, there is no doubt that the local response has been a huge effort – with limited funding.
But this work has been jeopardised by lack of financial support from central government, misinformation spreading easily online, the shocking vaccine disputes taking place between the UK and EU, and conflicting reports in international media about vaccine safety. It is also hampered by people who spread misinformation and fear closer to home, among their community and family.
The evidence is clear that the vaccine – whichever you have – is safe and effective. But this isn’t getting through fast enough.
The process of developing the COVID-19 vaccine and testing it is the same as any other jab, just sped up through more funding and resources; not cutting corners.
If you know someone unsure about whether to have their jab – especially if they are someone whom you are worried is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 – there is a network of people who can help answer questions and provide information, including in other languages. Visit www.southwark.gov.uk/ to find out more.