Covid Scotland: One in ten healthcare staff found Covid vaccine difficult to access

Covid vaccines should be easier to access for health workers in future programmes, with better communication about safety and efficacy, Public Health Scotland (PHS) has said.

The recommendations were made as PHS published a survey of 7,000 health and social care staff in Scotland of their views on the vaccine rollout to their cohort.

While most were satisfied with the campaign, key issues raised included the booking system, eligibility and communication.

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One in ten (9 per cent) of healthcare workers and 6 per cent of social care workers said they found the vaccine difficult or very difficult to access in their organisation.

Nurse Eleanor Pinkerton administers a coronavirus vaccine to one of the health and social care staff at the NHS Louisa Jordan Hospital in Glasgow, as part of a mass vaccination drive by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. Picture date: Saturday January 23, 2021.

Younger people with a lower income were less likely to be offered it.

Recommendations from staff centred around location and transport, with one social care worker in Tayside calling for “more localised centres”.

One healthcare worker in Lothian said they struggled to access a first dose as when this was offered at work they had Covid and so could not take it up.

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Some respondents said there was a lack of clarity around who was eligible for the vaccine and whether this included support roles.

A common definition of “frontline health and social care staff” should be agreed between the Scottish Government and health boards ahead of any autumn booster jag rollout, PHS said, to prevent confusion over who is eligible.

Health boards should also try and make the vaccine more accessible, including a range of booking options and flexible appointments.

Health workers responding to the survey were least satisfied with the booking system, and methods of making or changing an appointment.

Many reported long waits on phone lines or with online systems, and some patient-facing staff said they felt disadvantaged compared to administrative staff who were able to spend more time on hold when booking over the phone.

Staff reported poor communication when the gap between first and second doses was lengthened to 12 weeks at the end of December, and some said they felt “let down”.

PHS recommended clear communication over any future changes, including around dose intervals, as well as around new evidence on safety and efficacy of the vaccines.

Staff who decided not to take up the vaccine were more likely to be young, female and social care workers.

Reasons given for not being vaccinated centred on side effects, issues around pregnancy and fertility, and lack of belief the virus posed a danger to them.

The survey was conducted in March, with more than 7,000 responses. One quarter of these were social care staff and the rest healthcare staff.

At the time 96 per cent of respondents had received one vaccine dose, 2 per cent had decided not to be vaccinated, and 2 per cent had not been offered a vaccine.

Just over half had been given both doses.

The report states: “The Covid-19 vaccination programme has been delivered at pace and in the context of a global pandemic.

"It is clear that while there has been high uptake of the vaccine and experience was positive overall, there is always room for improvement.

"The lessons identified here have been fed into the programme to inform improvements to the current programme and support future planning for workforce vaccination programmes.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We welcome the report and its recommendations which we will now study in detail.

“The extraordinary hard work, dedication, skills and commitment of our frontline NHS staff has kept us safe and cared for throughout the pandemic. Their vital work is valued hugely, and we are determined to continue to do all we can to ensure they feel supported and cared for.

“Scotland's vaccination programme has been one of the fastest in the world with around 92 per cent of the over-40 population in Scotland now fully vaccinated. The current Covid-19 vaccination programme continues at pace and remains on schedule to complete adult first doses ahead of target, and second doses in September.

“We’re now working closely with NHS boards to plan for a potential Covid-19 vaccine booster programme this autumn, alongside the vital annual seasonal flu vaccination programme, guided by the interim advice from the JCVI.”

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