Inclusion Healthcare on the road: Accelerating our immunisation programme

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The drive to tackle the measles outbreak in Leicester has seen Inclusion Healthcare hit the road to administer vaccinations to asylum seekers and refugees living in hotels and hostels across the city.

The dedicated campaign is part of a wider immunisation programme delivered by Inclusion Healthcare to ensure the most vulnerable and marginalised people in Leicester are protected against serious disease and illness.

For Practice Nurse Tracey Watts, the take-up of vaccines relies on clear education, raising awareness and building trust with service users.

Following the measles outbreak in November, Tracey started contacting service users to encourage them to come to The Assist Practice to be vaccinated.

However, the turnout was low so Tracey decided to be proactive and get out into the community. She started visiting hostels and hotels – places where contagious diseases like measles can spread easily due to the high volume of people living in one place. One person with measles can infect up to 20 people.

Tracey set up ‘pop-up’ vaccination stations in an ambulance at each location, with no appointment needed to receive the injection.

Preventing a measles outbreak in a hotel can be about saving lives,” she said. “It’s all about education and raising awareness.

Working with asylum seekers and refugees does bring its own unique challenges, starting with the language barrier. However, Tracey is normally accompanied by a translator or uses online translation tools.

Another stumbling block can be the element of choice when it comes to opting in to the UK’s vaccination programme, as Tracey explains: “Our service users often come from countries where they have been told what to do and what they’re going to have done. If there’s suddenly a choice, it can be harder to talk them round.

Inclusion Healthcare on the road Accelerating our immunisation programme 1

However, the reaction has generally been very positive, Tracey said.

Once you’ve explained the possible implications of not having it done, most people are happy to be vaccinated,” she said. “For instance, we explain the risks of passing measles onto pregnant women, and the danger it poses to babies. We also explain how it can lead to other life-changing conditions, like blindness and deafness.

With potentially hundreds of service users who have yet to be vaccinated against measles, Tracey is concentrating her efforts on getting as many children immunised as possible, including unaccompanied children. 

The vaccine outreach programme launched during the pandemic, when buses were used to reach service users during evenings and weekends to deliver COVID-19 vaccinations. The outreach programme has since been developed to include the flu vaccination.

As well as getting out into the community, vaccinations are also available at The Assist Practice or The Inclusion Practice, with new users encouraged to get up to date with their immunisations when they register.

Knowing your service users is vital to getting them on board, Tracey says. For instance, those using The Inclusion Practice who may be sleeping rough can be more reluctant to have the flu vaccination if it may trigger flu symptoms for a few days. That means it is important that the vaccine is administered while they are staying at a hostel so they are comfortable and warm should they do feel any side effects.

Asylum seekers or refugees can pose a different challenge, Tracey says. For instance, she knows how important it is to explain to Muslim service users that there is an option to have vaccines which do not contain pig products such a gelatine. 

Tracey said: “People trust us. If they know that it is us giving it to them, they’re more likely to want to have it.

Helping people to feel at ease and being flexible to key to building relationships and ensuring more people are vaccinated, she said.

Tracey, who joined Inclusion Healthcare four years ago, said: “I wanted to get involved because of the inequalities you see in healthcare. I wanted to help people. Sometimes it becomes about more than vaccines – I saw a baby a couple of years ago and realised his mum didn’t have a steriliser or clean bottles, so we can help in that way too. I see children who don’t have any toys so I’ve always got books and activity packs I can hand out.

One thing Tracey is particularly proud about is the 100% vaccine take-up for the last 12 months among the under-18s who are registered with The Assist Practice – an NHS measurement that is difficult to achieve, she says.

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