Newcastle's Covid-19 vaccine centres delivering just 30% of maximum jab capacity

By Daniel Holland

Newcastle’s vaccine programme is delivering less than a third of the jabs that it could.

Health chiefs have reported that just 30% of the available capacity at the various vaccine services across Newcastle is being utilised by the public, though there have been some improvements to the uptake of doses.

The news comes despite a major push to encourage more people to get jabs over recent months, as officials have tried desperately to boost the city’s Covid vaccination rates – having consistently lagged well behind the rest of the North East.

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Extra services introduced over the summer have included more pop-up jab sites, extra vaccines buses going around the city and being stationed at busy spots including St James’ Park, and door knocking in ‘higher risk’ areas with particularly low vaccination rates.

According to latest Government figures, 72.6% of those aged 16 and over in Newcastle have received their first dose of a vaccine and 64.2% their second – still far below the national averages of 89.2% and 81.3% respectively.

Prof Eugene Milne, Newcastle’s public health director, said that officials had “thrown the kitchen sink” at the jabs rollout.

He added that the city’s vaccine uptake of a first dose in over-50s has improved and is much closer to neighbouring boroughs, with the entire region in the 90 to 95% range, as well as being second best among England’s other core cities.

Mark Adams, chief officer of Newcastle Gateshead CCG, added that the city was in “much more difficult position three or four months ago” and that efforts to improve jab uptake “have borne fruit”.

However, he reported to Wednesday’s meeting of the City Futures Board that the vaccine rollout across large hubs like the Newcastle Racecourse, local GP services, pharmacies, and mobile jab sites was operating at just 30% of its maximum capacity, which would be more than 27,000 doses administered each week.

Despite that lack of demand, he said services would not be scaled back in order to ensure that there is equal access across Newcastle.

The rollout of booster jabs will start on September 20, initially focused on high-risk groups including care home residents and the immunosuppressed.

Children aged 12 to 15 will also start to be offered their first dose of a vaccine, but even with those extra services Mr Adams said he still only expects the vaccine programme to reach 66% of its capacity.

The 'Grab a Jab' Covid vaccination bus outside St James Football stadium. (Newcastle Chronicle)

He added: “In one sense we want to use more, but in another sense that is good because it gives us a lot of flexibility and enables us to move pop-up sites, move roving buses, etc., around the city at relatively short notice to pick up demand where we can identify it.”

Prof Milne said that council staff tasked with tracking down and speaking to people yet to get their vaccines had convinced about 18% to change their minds, a “very good return on investment”.

He told the board: “We have thrown the kitchen sink at this over the last few months. We have had leaflet drops, people knocking on doors, we have worked through Community Champions, worked with ethnic minorities.

“In a comparison I saw of core cities on black and ethnic minority vaccine uptake, we are actually better than any of the others.

“But we are by no means complacent because, compared to the rest of the population, we still have ethnic minority groups with quite low uptakes.”

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