Strong plea for extended Covid vaccination programme in Luton to protect town's 'much more vulnerable' population

Figures show 44% of Luton adults vaccinated with one dose, placing it 57th out of 59 upper tier local authorities.

Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 1:31 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 1:35 pm

Luton Council has today issued a strong plea for extended population vaccination to protect its communities from the risk of another wave of COVID-19 as the country has moved to the next stage of the government roadmap and relaxation of restrictions.

Luton, which recently had the highest case rates in the country, and enduring high case rates for the last year, currently has one of the highest rates of adults in the country who have yet to have a vaccine.

Lucy Hubber, Luton’s Director of Public Health, said: “Luton’s population is much more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to a number of complex factors such as social deprivation, high-proportion of frontline workers not able to work from home, demographic make-up and large numbers of multi-generational households making it a greater challenge for people to effectively self-isolate.

Mobile testing bus at Sainsbury's Bury Park. Photo: Tony Margiocchi

“We have a super-diverse multi-cultural community, which also means high numbers of permitted international travel will always contribute to our high rates.

“Worryingly, these factors are combined with a current model for vaccination which is not accessible to many in our population. During the spring we carried out two pilot open access ‘walk in’ community vaccination pop-ups which was highly successful in vaccinating people in our community who would have otherwise been missed.

“This approach to community vaccination has been praised by Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi and we are convinced that this is the only way of increasing our vaccination rates and protecting our communities.”

In late April, Luton Council asked to be able to extend vaccination to all residents ahead of the national programme because of these greater risks within communities. It has also asked for greater flexibility in the ways that the vaccine is offered to reduce barriers to uptake. Neither of these requests have been approved by the government.

Cllr Hazel Simmons, Leader of Luton Council, said: “Luton’s communities have done a fantastic job over the last few weeks to get our case rates back under control, but with the onset of a new worrying variant in our area and the easing of restrictions from this week, we need to act now in order to protect our communities by increasing our vaccination rates.

“Vaccination offered to whole households, regardless of age, will protect families and reduce the devastating harm that COVID-19 has brought to our communities.

“Early action is critical to avoiding an increase in cases, and therefore harm from missed income or missed education or illness.”

Luton Council will continue to work closely with NHS Bedfordshire Luton and Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group to push for extended vaccination of the whole community.

Cllr Khtija Malik, Portfolio Holder for Public Health, has issued a reminder to residents on the need to protect themselves as restrictions are eased. She said: “Given our high COVID-19 rates and relatively low vaccination numbers, it is even more important that our communities continue to remember to wear face coverings, wash hands and keep a distance from others, as this is the best way to protect themselves and others.”

On Monday, May 10, 89.6% of Luton cases were from the (assumed) Kent variant, which has been stable for 3 months. On Friday, May 14 this figure had fallen to 78%. The council says it is likely that this significant change is due to increases in other variants of concern, such as the B1.61.7.2.

In the week ending Sunday, May 2, Luton had 44% of the adult population vaccinated with one dose and was 57th out of 59 upper tier local authorities. This compares to 72% in Dorset.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said yesterday: “With infections nationwide remaining low, and over half of the adult population now vaccinated, we are able to take the next step out of lockdown and get back to the things we love doing.

“But with the presence of variants in the UK and around the world, COVID-19 remains a very real threat, so we must stay vigilant. I urge you to exercise caution when meeting up with friends and family and to keep a safe distance from others.

“Remember meeting people outside is always safer, and when meeting indoors, make sure you let in fresh air by opening a window or door. These are small changes we can all make in our daily lives that will have a huge impact on stopping the virus from spreading.”