Two years ago Leeds suffered an outbreak of measles. There were more than 30 confirmed cases in just three months, prompting an emergency response to contain the spread and get unvaccinated children immunised quickly. Since then, the city has worked hard to drive up vaccination rates more generally – and taking pro-vaccination messages direct to the public has played a key role.
What was done?
Improving uptake is now one of the recognised key priorities of Leeds’ Health Protection Board, which brings together the council and local NHS.
The council’s public health team, along with primary care and CCG partners, have been focussing on doing outreach work in local communities that have low uptake rates as part of this.
GP data was analysed to map vaccination rates down to a local level and helped identify key areas to focus on. In some areas of Leeds less than 70 per cent of children have had the first dose of the MMR vaccine. Having this information allowed the team to coordinate awareness-raising across these communities. This has involved the team working with infection control nurses, doing outreach work direct with the public.
Practices have also been running workshops with local volunteers and public sector staff to up-skill and empower them to have conversations with local people. The team has worked with children’s centres, schools and voluntary sector groups.
Advanced Health Improvement Specialist, Gail Evans, said: “You can’t underestimate the importance of talking to people. We have produced easy-read versions of leaflets and posters and used them.
“But I think the biggest impact is from speaking to families. We have gone into children’s centres, worked with voluntary sector groups and attended parent groups at primary schools.
“It has given us the chance to remind parents of the importance of vaccination and to address any concerns they have.
“We‘ve tried to piggy-back on existing events to try to reach out to people - there was one occasion where we were invited by one group to a picnic in a park. We go where the people are.”
Ms Evans said the council has learned a lot from the work done so far. She said getting the infection control nurses involved has been particularly important. “The fact they are in uniform has really had an impact – they are trusted and I think it makes a difference to parents hearing from them.”
She also said the work highlighted the number of families that are simply not registered with a GP. “It is a more common issue than you would think. If you are not registered with a GP you are not going to get vaccinated before school so we have focussed on getting people to register as well.”
What else is happening?
As a result of this work, Leeds is starting to explore new ways of offering vaccination in these areas. Pop-up clinics were successfully used in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak, with families offered the MMR vaccine at community venues and schools. Around 750 unvaccinated children were immunised in a matter of weeks.
“It is certainly something that we are planning to do again. I think what our work shows is the importance of three things – getting strategic senior buy-in, gathering local data and then doing outreach.”
The potential of social media is also being explored, with this winter’s flu vaccination campaign being heavily promoted digitally. A series of videos and other social media assets have been produced by the council and NHS. These include a Horrible Historiesstyle short video stories about the risks of flu and need for vaccination.
“We’ve used the traditional mediums of TV and radio too, but social media offers a different route to people who may not be engaging with those. We are going to see how it works – if it is successful we could do something similar for routine childhood vaccinations,” added Ms Evans.
Advanced Health Improvement Specialist
Leeds City Council