Lancashire is expected to have offered a first Covid vaccine to everyone over the age of 50 by early-mid March.
That would mean the county had invited people in all nine of the government’s priority groups for a jab – including everyone over 16 with an underlying health condition – around a month ahead of the target time set by ministers.
Details emerged at a meeting of Lancashire County Council’s internal scrutiny committee, where it was also revealed that Preston and Burnley are set to get their own mass Covid vaccination centres within weeks.
The locations of the facilities have not yet been revealed, but it has been confirmed that the areas will become the latest parts of Lancashire to see the introduction of large-scale sites designed to help increase the capacity of the inoculation programme.
Vaccines will still be delivered from existing GP and hospital hubs and community pharmacies once the new venues open.
Blackpool’s Winter Gardens and Lancaster Town Hall are opening as mass vaccination sites as of Monday, with a facility at Blackburn Cathedral already in operation.
Cabinet member for health and wellbeing Shaun Turner welcomed the fact that the county was “performing well” in deploying the vaccine.
“Early-mid March, it’s predicted we’ll have all over-50s done, which is really good,” he said.
The meeting also heard that all care home residents in Lancashire are due to be vaccinated by this Sunday – in line with the government’s target – with the only exceptions being those living in residences where there is currently an outbreak.
County Cllr Turner said “special measures” will be put in place to ensure that those vaccines can be administered as soon as possible.
Committee member Steve Holgate questioned whether there was a risk that the county could become “a victim of our own success” if its speedy deployment of the vaccine resulted in doses being redistributed to other areas that had not had such a flying start.
It was reported earlier this week that the Yorkshire and North East region was to have its vaccine supply halved to allow other areas to catch up.
“I think our public needs to know that [might be] the case, so that there are no false expectations and we can understand the reasons why there may be a slowdown,” said County Cllr Holgate, who added that it would be “the right thing to do”.
However, County Cllr Turner said Lancashire’s performance so far should put it in good stead for supplies, because the county was seen as “standing ready” – although he admitted it would be operating at the margins in the coming weeks.
“What [the government] don’t want to do is to give it to people who aren’t quite ready and haven’t got the logistics in place, because they don’t want to waste [it].
“We’re running it tight, but this should improve going forward – I’ve not heard anything to the contrary as yet.
“At the moment… doing well is not holding us back, because we’re showing we can use that vaccine when it comes in,” he added.
In a statement issued after the meeting, Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown welcomed news of the planned mass vaccination site.
“Vaccination plays a key role in the battle against the pandemic and I cannot urge residents strongly enough to take the opportunity to be vaccinated when it is made available to them.
“Having central, accessible sites is key to enabling the vaccination programme to effectively be delivered at speed, and I look forward to the opening of a mass vaccination centre in Preston as part of the NHS’ plan for the city.
“We have been engaged in discussions and in support of this progress with our partners for some time and believe it is an essential next step for protecting our residents,” Cllr Brown added.
At a separate meeting of the Lancashire health and wellbeing board earlier this week, Dr. Julkie Higgins – joint chief officer of East Lancashire clinical commissioning group – said she was concerned about the volume of vaccine currently available in some areas.
“If we look at…the number of vaccine drops we have had, [because of] the way we established ourselves – which was the right way [with] large sites – what we have had is delivery of vaccine per site, which means some of our areas with the greatest health inequalities, such as Burnley and Blackburn, have had less vaccine per [head of] population.
“So we are monitoring this, because we are concerned about creating greater inequalities.”
“What we don’t know, but we suspect, is that we have also got some inequality with minority ethnic groups. So…we have been speaking to local councils about how [they] can help with community engagement.
“We are seeing that mobilised, so hopefully it will have an impact on those groups who are less inclined to come to [be vaccinated], so that we can get some really positive messages out there and dispel some of the myths that are out there as well,” Dr. Higgins said.
In a statement issued after the meeting at which the new vaccination centres were announced, Jane Scattergood, Covid-19 vaccination director for the Lancashire and South Cumbria integrated care system (ICS) said:
“As the expansion of the Covid vaccination programme continues to gather pace, we are planning to open large-scale sites in Preston and Burnley in the coming weeks.
“GPs, nurses, pharmacists, other staff, and volunteers are working hard behind the scenes to get the sites ready.
“As with other vaccination services, people should wait to be invited by the NHS.”
“The rollout of the vaccine and establishing these sites involves a wide range of organisations working together.
“We need to thank the significant support to the NHS to deliver the Covid vaccination programme from our wider partners, including Cumbria County Council, Lancashire County Council, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, Blackpool Council, our district councils, the military, police, local businesses and many more,” Ms. Scattergood added.
Lancashire County Council has asked the army to remain in the county for a further fortnight to help it continue to roll out its rapid-turnaround Covid testing programme.
Forty teams of military personnel began to deliver targeted “lateral flow” testing to workforces at large employment sites last month and the scheme is currently being extended to some community locations.
The number of teams has recently halved to 20, with all of them set to depart by 6th February.
However, the county has requested that they stay for another two weeks in order to help equip people with the skills to continue the programme when they do finally leave..
“The military helped us get it going – but more latterly, they have been upskilling people to carry out the testing programme and we are rapidly trying to recruit people to step into that space,” County Cllr Turner said.
Cllr Brown added in a statement that he believed targeted testing would prove its worth in Preston.
“I am pleased with the positive response from the business community in the city centre to the newly opened targeted SMART testing unit that has opened in the Harris, coordinated in partnership with the Lancashire Resilience Forum with the support of the military.“Regular, targeted testing is a key way to protect residents, communities and businesses while the NHS vaccination programme continues to be rolled out.”
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