The vaccine "is the only thing that could get us out of this situation". (Credit: Dr Irfan Malik)

Nottinghamshire’s vaccine rollout programme has not gone off to a good start after league tables showed the area to be languishing next to the bottom. Olimpia Zagnat investigates the reason behind the worrying numbers and what experts’ hopes are for the future.

Nottingham and the county had the second-worst rates of first jabs delivered so far, and the worst when it comes to second doses compared to the rest of England, latest data reveals.

Worrying over the local vaccination process is increasing as only 25 people aged 80 years old or over have received the second dose in Nottinghamshire.

In the middle of the storm, experts reinforce that the vaccine “is the only thing that could get us out of this situation”.

With an experience of over 25 years as a medical practitioner, Dr Malik says the vaccine “gives us hope for the future that we can overcome this pandemic” and urges the elderly to book an appointment.

Being on the frontline in the middle of a pandemic

Dr Irfan Malik, senior partner at Elmswood Surgery in Sherwood, 52, reveals how the vaccination process has been going on behind closed doors.

He says: “It has been a very stressful year because of the situation we are in nationally and internationally.

“So it has been very different to our practices normally, we had to adapt to the new conditions.”

Dr Malik outlines the importance of carrying on with the vaccine as ‘it is the only way’ to overcome this crisis.

“I am very positive and I had the first dose of the vaccine as well, so I’m very supportive to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”

The striking figures, however, raise concerns across Nottinghamshire and highlight the need for some clarity.

‘Confusion’ around confirmation letters sent to over 80s

One of the problems identified by Dr Malik is the confusion created by the ‘two-way letter’ system.

At the start, people aged 80 or over were told that they have to wait until they have received a letter to book an appointment.

However, this has changed – the last advice for this age category is to book an appointment ‘as soon as possible’, says Dr Malik.

Anyone over 80 who has not yet received their letter can book online here.

He adds: “Even if they haven’t received the letter yet they can book online or over the phone.”

The NHS has encouraged over 80s to use the online booking line if they are able to so that the phone number is available for those who are not able to use the online booking link.

Services are now proactively calling people in this age category who have received their letter and not yet booked an appointment.

Speaking about the confusion that might have caused delays, Dr Malik adds: “It is also the ‘two-way letter’ that is causing confusion.

“One of them is from the National Vaccinations Centres, and then the other letter is more related to local booking – so elderly people are getting two letters.”

Nottinghamshire vaccination off to a slow start

Dr Malik explains the reason why the county vaccination had a slow start but will continue to improve.

“This is due to a number of reasons”, he says.

“In Nottinghamshire, the plan was to open local vaccination centres instead of having vaccines done in local GP surgeries – and that took a lot of organising to do and logistically it took time.

Logistical problems have slowed down the vaccination process. (Credit: Olimpia Zagnat)

“So in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire the vaccination process started a bit later than in other parts of the country.”

As Dr Malik says, multiple vaccination centres have just been opened across the county and that could potentially boost the figures.

He adds: “So you can see that over time, when all these centres open, numbers will rise.

“Even as we speak now the numbers will go up day by day.”

Over 80s struggle with online booking

Another issue identified by Dr Malik is the confusion around the online booking system.

People aged 80 years old and over may not have access to it, or struggle to book, therefore they need assistance.

“They need to go through that booking system by themselves because the phone line is usually engaged, and the quicker way is to do it online”, he adds.

As well as identifying the issues, the GP suggests a few solution that could be implemented to accommodate the elderly.

He says: “One way would be to have more people answering the phones and increase the lines or calls that they could take.

“And another way could be to find people to assist older people to book a vaccine.”

On this, a Nottingham and Nottinghamshire NHS spokesperson said: “We would like to say thank you to those who have waited patiently for their letter before making an appointment, this has meant we have been able to prioritise the most vulnerable.

“Now as the programme enters the next phase, it is important that relatives, friends and carers encourage and assist over 80s in booking their appointment.

“All the information to book appointments is available in the letter but it is important we help those in our community to take up the offer.”

However, even in the current situation Dr Malik projects an improvement in the numbers of people who got the vaccine.

“We would like the figures for the vaccine to be much higher in Nottinghamshire.

“We are working hard to raise the percentage of over 80s to get vaccinated and I’m told that over the last week a lot of work has been done on this”, he adds.

“So hopefully next time, when the figures go out, Nottinghamshire will look better.”

BAME communities at higher risk should be ‘awaiting’

Death rates from Covid-19 in England have been higher among people of black and Asian origin than any other ethnic group, according to NHS statistics.

As Dr Malik further explains, this is due to ‘multiple reasons’, such as medical, social and economical aspects.

He says: “I think it would be multi-factorial because many BAME communities are sort of key workers or on the front line – so that’s a risk for them.

“And they also come from multi-generational and multi-family homes, and also have more illnesses that predispose them to catch the virus.”

“It’s all combined together.”

Despite being at higher risk, the turnout for the vaccine in BAME communities is still low.

Dr Malik adds: “Even though they’re aware of being at higher risk – from my personal experience – less people have turned up for vaccinations so we need to work hard on those communities to make sure they have their vaccinations done.

“There’s a higher risk for them to get the virus, and then there’s an increased risk of death as well for the BAME communities.

“I think they should be awaiting, because this could be added as a risk factor.”

However, Dr Malik says he is hopeful for the future and highlights the efforts made by the NHS workers and volunteers to tackle this crisis.

“We have made it through and we pulled through as a team”, he says.