Holbeck Together minibus funded by Big Lottery is getting older people to Leeds vaccination centres

Community groups and charities in Leeds are stepping in to ensure older people do not miss the opportunity to receive their Covid-19 vaccinations due to a lack of transport.

By Georgina Morris
Tuesday, 19th January 2021, 6:00 am

Holbeck Together, a member of Leeds Older People's Forum, has been using its minibuses to offer a door-to-door service and a friendly face to those who need help to get to their allocated vaccination centre and may be feeling anxious.

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Chief officer Ellisa Newman said: "We've been listening very carefully to our service users. There are people that wouldn't have been able to get there or they'd have gone alone in a taxi perhaps."

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Covid-19 vaccinations are now being offered to over 70s and the clinically extremely vulnerable. Picture: Ben Birchall/PA

She said some older clients do not have family living nearby or perhaps have relatives with young children or frontline jobs who are staying away for the time being to reduce the risk of passing on the virus.

It comes as the Yorkshire Evening Post continues its A Shot in the Arm campaign calling for everyone to have the ability to get a jab within 10 minutes of their home by using the country’s network of 11,000 pharmacies.

Here in Leeds, there are around 160 small and medium-sized pharmacies that could be offered the opportunity to support the programme and, in doing so, reduce the distance people need to travel to get their jabs.

In the meantime, Holbeck Together has been helping to plug that gap by stepping in to ensure older clients get to their appointments when the time comes.

"We have a transport service that we're very proud of," Mrs Newman said. "Under normal circumstances these two buses, which the Big Lottery actually funded for us, are on runs to the theatre, to the coast, and trips and things. They've proved invaluable during lockdown."

Earlier in the pandemic, the organisation teamed up with Age UK to run a transport service to help get people to appointments at St James' Hospital.

Now the focus has shifted to include helping older or vulnerable people to get to whichever vaccination centre they are asked to attend.

Mrs Newman said: "We've been able to do a door-to-door service. People have felt much more confident. Our driver, Roy, has been able to pick them up."

The campaign, run alongside sister titles across JPIMedia, also requests further reassurance for local communities from the Government and more easy-to-access information on the vaccine programme and its progress.

Having access to clear information was among the issues highlighted by Mick Howard, from Armley Helping Hands - another member organisation of Leeds Older People's Forum.

He said there had been a lot of confusion and concern when the government position on timescales for second doses changed from three weeks to three months, but the quality of information from the local primary care network had been very good.

And while people naturally feel nervous about having their jab, the prospect of getting vaccinated and the hope of bringing the pandemic under control is something that has lifted everyone's spirits.

"The feedback we've had from our clients is it's really good that it's started," Mr Howard said. "There's not one of them that's not got it done.

"On the whole, it's been very positive and people just want to get it done."

Mr Howard runs the organisation's Don't Call Me Old project for 50 to 70-year-olds and said those people were just as keen to get vaccinated, particularly as many were clinically vulnerable.

Like Holbeck Together, the team at Armley Helping Hands has minibuses that can be used to help get older clients to appointments if needed.

Backing the YEP campaign to get local pharmacies involved in administering vaccines, Mr Howard said: "I think it can't happen soon enough and a lot of people feel the same.

"If the pharmacies are doing it, they can see a lot more people and it can be rolled out quicker. I think it could be a great idea if pharmacies did that."

The Government is aiming to vaccinate 15 million people across the UK by mid-February, including health and social care staff, the elderly and people in care homes.

More than 3.8 million people in the UK - including over-80s, care home residents, and NHS and social care staff - have already received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The Government said it would remain the priority to vaccinate those groups, but that sites which have enough supply and capacity to vaccinate more people could offer jabs to the next cohorts - those aged over 70 and the clinically extremely vulnerable - from yesterday.

In phase two, jabs will be handed out to people over 75, before moving down to those aged 70-plus and 65-plus as well as other adults with health conditions which leave them vulnerable.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to offer vaccinations to the first four priority groups by the middle of next month, while Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday that all adults would be offered a first dose by September.

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