Government staff deployed to South Tyneside to door knock and encourage people to get Covid vaccine

South Tyneside will be the site of an initial trial this weekend, with 25 workers arriving in the borough Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Archive/PA Images

Teams of government Covid staff have been deployed to streets across the North East in a bid to reverse a "slowdown" in vaccinations.

The move is the first major step of "enhanced response" measures announced in July to reduce infection rates in the region and boost uptake of the vaccine in areas where the jab rollout was faltering.

South Tyneside is the site of an initial trial this weekend, with 25 workers arriving in the borough and being sent to busy areas from Friday morning to talk to locals about any concerns about vaccines and to direct them towards jab clinics.

  • Tom Hall, South Tyneside's Director of Public Health

It is then expected that similar programmes will be delivered in other parts of the North East over the coming weeks, particularly in Newcastle and Middlesbrough where vaccination rates have lagged behind the rest of the region. 

Tom Hall, South Tyneside's public health director, confirmed that the enhanced government support in place since July 26 is not involving any extra vaccines, tests, or vaccinators, after it was agreed that the North East has sufficient supply.

Mr Hall said the problem local health chiefs want to tackle is a "slowdown" in the number of people coming forward to take up the offer of a jab and they, therefore, asked for help in spreading the message.

There will be a particular push to target:

  • young people

  • working- age men

  • those who have missed vaccine appointments due to being in isolation or having tested positive for the virus

The 25 government staff will be sent to busy areas like South Shields town centre and the seafront this weekend, as well as going into local businesses and community hubs.

South Tyneside Council said locals can expect a "more physical presence" this weekend with targeted door knocking in areas that have lower vaccine uptake.

Mr Hall said: "These are people who are well-versed in Covid, they understand about the vaccination programme and they are there just to have that extra chat with people that might encourage them to come along."

Mr Hall added: "I don't have the specific programme but I know other areas are in conversation with them, particularly Newcastle and Middlesbrough, and are talking to central government about how they might deploy these additional staff. 

"In addition to that we are doing enhanced communication work as well. We already have the Beat Covid North East campaign and we are doing an additional push through that and a push through social media channels, particularly those used by more younger people."

Covid infection rates in the North East have fallen significantly over recent weeks, having escalated in June and July. 

South Tyneside locals can expect a "more physical presence" this weekend with targeted door knocking in areas that have lower vaccine uptake Credit: PA

Mr Hall said that South Tyneside's current infection rate was now around a quarter of what it was just a few weeks ago, when it hit a pandemic peak of more than 1,300 cases per 100,000 people and had the highest rate in England.

Asked why the "enhanced government response" was not introduced at a time when the North East's cases were on the rise, the public health chief said: "A lot of areas had support around surge testing and additional case finding, that was not the problem for the North East. We had lots of capacity in terms of access to testing and our rates of testing were the highest in the country.

"That additional support around testing was not something that would have been beneficial at the time. 

"We had already gone down the route, particularly in the LA7 with the Beat Covid North East campaign, of communications over and above the national messaging, whereas other areas did not have that.

"There were things that might have been available to us that were not really needed in the North East, access to the vaccine was also very good.

"There was a sense of, 'well, what else could be offered without going back to lockdown-esque restrictions?' Of course, it was very clear that central government was never going to go back to that."

The government's enhanced support package was due to last an initial five weeks and Mr Hall said it was "hard to look down the line and say where we will be in a couple of weeks' time".

He added: "My personal aim is looking ahead to the school return in September, it is only a month before people start going back to school, college, university, and all the rest of it.