Wiltshire council: promoting vaccination among traveller and houseboat communities

Wiltshire Council targeting groups at risk of low uptake, including homeless, traveller and houseboat communities.


This is part of a series of case-studies published on 7 April 2021 

  • Council targeting groups at risk of low uptake, including homeless, traveller and houseboat communities 
  • TV personality Paddy Doherty used to promote jab to travellers 
  • Vaccination team to offer vaccine via boat to communities who live on canal 
  • Homeless drop-in centres to be used to run pop-up vaccination clinics 

Local context 

Wiltshire is home to 500,000 people once the town of Swindon, which has its own unitary authority, is excluded.

There are more than 20 local vaccination centres. Most are in GP centres although other sites, including Salisbury Cathedral, City Hall Salisbury and Devizes Corn Exchange have been used.
 
Wiltshire has seen good levels of uptake in the older age groups. But as the programme has been rolled out, the council has been mindful of the need to engage hard-to-reach groups where people may be less likely to come forward, and has worked closely with Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group.  

Health Protection Manager Michael Rose said: “We were always aware as we moved down the age groups we were at risk of seeing lower uptake, certainly among some communities. 

“So we have worked closely with our colleagues in the NHS and partners across Wiltshire, Swindon and Bath and North East Somerset to identify where extra support or targeted interventions may be needed.” 

One of Mr Rose’s team, Health Protection Officer Emma Bronson, has been tasked with developing bespoke programmes. Together they have identified three groups to specifically target – travellers, people who live in houseboats and homeless people.

Using a TV star to promote jab to travellers 

Ms Bronson has worked closely with the teams who provide support to these groups, such as the social worker for the traveller community and local voluntary sector groups who work with the homeless. 

She said: “For each we have tried to think about the barriers they face and how best to engage them. For the traveller community we thought the most powerful step would be to get someone from their community to promote vaccination.” 

She approached a number of high-profile people with links to the traveller community and Paddy Doherty, a former bare-knuckle fighter and star of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, agreed to help.  

He recorded a video in which he urges people from the traveller community to get vaccinated. “Travellers may be afraid, but how can you be afraid of the something that is going to fix you. You can save yourself. Take the vaccine,” he said in the clip. 

Ms Bronson said: “He was great. He really wanted to do something. His mum has had Covid and he knows the risks. Having someone like that delivering the message has so much more impact than if it was someone from the council. We are now promoting it on social media and so is he. 

It’s something that is being picked up nationally – other areas can use it too. It could make a real difference in these communities.

Bespoke projects for houseboat and homeless communities 

For the homeless community, Ms Bronson has helped arrange pop-up vaccination clinics that are being held at drop-in centres used by rough sleepers.  There are two clinics being planned at different sites. 

Ms Bronson said: “They are places they go to and run by staff they trust so we have helped to arrange for vaccination teams to go in and offer the vaccine. It is important because these are obviously groups that would be very unlikely to attend through the normal route.” 

Meanwhile, the work with people living on houseboats has been done in partnership with Bath and North East Somerset Council and local primary care networks. A vaccination team will spend 11 days on a boat going down the canal to offer the vaccine and be supported by outreach workers from the two councils.
 
This builds on an approach that has been successfully used before with flu vaccination. 

Wiltshire, like many places, has also worked with its ethnic minority communities. A panel of experts, including a local GP and Swindon’s director of public health, hosted an online Q&A session dedicated for members of BAME communities in Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire. Questions put forward included how the safety of the vaccines had been assessed and what the ingredients were. 

Mr Rose said: “It is important to answer the questions and concerns people have. With this session, we worked closely with local faith and community leaders. That is the key to all this – partnership and collaboration. It is something we are doing with all our engagement work. 

“As we go forward, there will be other groups we want to work with. We have a large military community and I am sure there will be something we want to do with them. The vaccination programme has been a huge success so far and we want to play our part in ensuring that continues.”