This report will provide an update on the Local Outbreak Management Plan including top-level outcomes of recent stress tests made since the last update was presented to the Board on 17 June 2021.
The Director of Public Health (DPH) introduced the report which provided an update on the Medway Local Outbreak Management Plan (LOMP) and included top-level outcomes of recent stress tests made. He also advised the Board of the latest infection rates for Medway and the latest figures regarding vaccinations in Medway.
Members complemented the work done by the Council in controlling this unprecedented worldwide outbreak, in particular when difficult decisions had to be made under limited resources at an early stage. They raised a number of questions and comments which included:
Support for parents/grandparents - members expressed concerns about the lack of information locally or in the media on test and trace in the educational setting including, the free lateral flow tests or information on vaccinating young people who might come into contact with vulnerable relatives. In response, the DPH assured members that comprehensive information on Medway LOMP was made available to parents through schools and education settings, plus a lot of relevant signposting articles on Medway Council’s website. He understood that many children had been tested twice before returning to schools. The Director of People referred to her meeting with school leaders earlier that morning and reported that everything was running smoothly for the new school term. At the appropriate time, schools would be supported to give advice and good guidance to families in terms of vaccine rollout for the school age children, but it was confirmed that at that time only in exceptional cases (i.e. those with underlying health conditions that put them at risk of severe COVID-19) would children under the age of 16 qualify for a vaccine as no national roll out for vaccinating younger children had commenced thus far.
The DPH added that every eligible 16/17 years old would have received correspondence from the NHS to their address about how they could access vaccination. He undertook to look into the specific scenario mentioned by a member in relation to vaccination for those school age children who were in contact with vulnerable adults to see if any actions could be taken to address the concern.
Vaccination for Looked After Children - members asked how Medway’s Looked After Children were being supported in respect of receiving vaccines. Officers explained that NHS nurses and colleagues in Medway with paediatric training were available at vaccination sites to brief the children and their carers on the benefits and side effects of vaccination. Foster carers were also being briefed in preparation to support young people as the programme was potentially extended to under 16s. It was also pointed out that the local authority was mindful of maintaining dialogue with the parents for children in care and securing parental consent to vaccinate a young person, as it was required to do so. It was also encouraging vaccine uptake among the eligible cohort of looked after children, some of whom were accompanied by staff during their visit to the vaccination sites if required.
Vaccination uptake - members urged for the need to boost Medway’s vaccine uptake rates with approximately 80% and 70% of the population had received the first and second doses respectively. DPH stressed that Medway’s uptake was good compared to other areas in the country, but that effort was still needed to continue to encourage uptake with all available tools and resources mobilised to increase the awareness of and access to vaccination. He called on committee members to advocate the benefits of vaccination amongst residents.
Members asked about the actions taken if Medway faced the same situation that specific community groups were reluctant to receive vaccines. The DPH highlighted that there were a range of mobile and diversified vaccination delivery options available across Medway, with colleagues providing detailed explanation of the benefits in receiving the vaccines. Equally it was added that a significant proportion of GPs in Medway who were from black and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds and so with support from Public Health, they were working to share information and provide support to such communities.
Vaccination sites - members expressed worries that when some large vaccination centres such as football stadiums might resume their original purposes by the end of September when the COVID-19 booster programme might also start. In response, the DPH pointed out that booster jabs would be offered to those most at risk from serious disease, and the number of people eligible for them would be manageable. It was added that the integrated care partnership for Medway and Swale and the Kent and Medway Vaccine Steering Group, was working hard to prepare for the implementation of booster programmes and was identifying suitable sites to meet specific requirements for vaccine delivery and storage.
Regulations and directions - noting that the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restriction) (England) (No.3) Regulations 2020 which had come into force on 18 July 2020 would continue to apply until the end of 27 September 2021, members expressed concerns about the source of powers available to the local authority after that date. The DPH explained that while those specific powers might have lapsed on 27 September 2021, the directions issued under the said Regulations would continue to prevail and were subject to review at least once every 7 days. He assured members that directions were in place for Council’s partners including the police and NHS to assess the safety and put in place contingency measures to manage sizable events. If necessary, the local authority could use other public health powers to protect the population.
The Health and Wellbeing Board:
a) noted the update presented in the report; and
b) recommended officers that, as soon as guidance for vaccinating school age children was available, they use their best endeavours to disseminate the guidance as widely as possible.