- 22 February 2024
NHS England recently launched its new Vaccination Strategy, explaining how the NHS plans to improve services for currently underserved communities, support the workforce, strengthen leadership and use data to increase vaccine uptake and coverage in England.
A clear strategy is key to delivering a vaccine service which works for all of us. Knowing what NHS England wants to achieve with its vaccination programme and how it will support providers, the workforce and the population to deliver such a programme helps the public health community align its efforts to better serve communities and achieve our strategic goals.
At its heart, the NHS England Vaccination Strategy aims to reduce health inequalities through increasing vaccine coverage and increased uptake. To achieve this, it sets out that vaccine services should be more convenient and outreach programmes should be planned for underserved populations.
At the same time, providers and networks should be better integrated and make the best use of data, leadership in the vaccine system should be strengthened and the vaccine workforce should be more diverse, up-skilled (or their current skills used to full advantage) and better supported. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) broadly welcomes this approach. Our recent research with children and young people (CYP) showed that they trust school nurses and felt encouraged to have a vaccine if it was given at school, indicating the importance of the public health workforce and convenience to CYP. However, it also highlighted considerable differences in perceptions of vaccines among CYP of Asian, Black and mixed ethnic backgrounds. Having vaccine programmes which acknowledge there is no one-size-fits-all approach and which is tailored to underserved populations' needs can better support these children. Previous RSPH research with parents revealed that many did not take their children to be vaccinated at GP clinics because appointment timings conflicted with their working hours, demonstrating again the importance of convenience to vaccination programmes.
There are three points we want to highlight from the Strategy because they fit with our policy and practice recommendations:
Importance of services that meet the needs of underserved populations and planned outreach provision to increase vaccine uptake. Locally driven initiatives such as ‘Grab-A-Jab’ have been successful in increasing engagement and vaccine uptake. Exploring delivery methods that are culturally competent, accessible and reach diverse communities will be beneficial to these communities.
The need for better support for the core and wider public health workforce. The Strategy recognises that support for the core and wider public health workforce is crucial for the successful delivery of vaccines, and it sets out plans to assist registered and unregistered staff in improving their skills through training and development opportunities. We especially welcome this approach, as we define the wider public health workforce as “any individual who is not a specialist or practitioner in public health but has the opportunity or ability to positively impact health and wellbeing through their work.” It also encourages the vaccinator workforce to be diverse and reflect the community it serves.
Creation of services that are convenient for the population to access, and that integrate technology and data collection to improve the experience of service users and vaccinator workforce. Delivering vaccines is a complex task and needs a firm evidence base. Having accurate data and good data collection systems will help the vaccinator workforce deliver services that meet the needs of communities, but will also ultimately help the population to access these services. The right technology will also help the workforce to quickly record valuable data that will help improve vaccine delivery in the future.
A successful vaccine programme needs to be properly funded, but it also needs to have the right data, the right approach and engagement with communities, the right delivery network with a strong leadership and the right support for the public health workforce. This Strategy is an important first step to improving vaccine uptake and coverage in England and tackling health inequalities.
The RSPH is looking forward to continuing our long cooperation with the NHS and supporting the implementation of the Vaccination Strategy, working to ensure that we live in a society where members of all communities lead healthier lives for longer.