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The COVID-19 vaccination programme: trials, tribulations and successes

COVID-19 Immunisation National Health Service (NHS) Pandemics Infectious diseases Public health United Kingdom

The COVID-19 vaccination programme has been one of the few almost unqualified successes of the UK’s response to the pandemic.

System-working, joining up the NHS, local government and the voluntary sector was a hallmark of the vaccine roll-out. Local knowledge and delivery were crucial. Volunteers also played a vital role, not just in acting as stewards at vaccination sites, but also in terms of community outreach, for example with faith communities and others offering sites for vaccination which in turn built trust in the vaccine and in the NHS.

The NHS has never used so much data so quickly and so powerfully, supporting the delivery of vaccine doses, recording any adverse reactions and, most importantly, allowing NHS staff to map who had the vaccine. This data in turn supported outreach work to support gaps in service provision and overcome vaccine hesitancy.

These factors which helped make the roll out a success should be ‘bottled and re-used’ for other NHS services, from childhood immunisations to screening for cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions, improving the service’s ability to reach the harder to reach

Based on interviews with a wide range of people involved in the programme, this report sets out what the roll-out in England has achieved, as well as its trials and tribulations. Given that the pandemic is ongoing, the report takes its cut-off point as end of November 2021 (with a brief update to reflect the changed situation due to the Omicron variant).

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