Essex GPs deliver COVID-19 jabs from custom-built van to boost uptake

GPs in Essex are going the extra mile to boost COVID-19 vaccine uptake in their area by using a custom-built van to travel to vulnerable patients.

Dr Smitesh Patel with the Essex Vax Van
Dr Smitesh Patel with the Essex Vax Van

Working closely with local community leaders, the ‘Essex vax van’ is being used to bring clinics to people who may also face barriers to accessing traditional health services, including black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and the homeless.

Equipped with its own temperature control fridge, as well as Wi-Fi capabilities, the van - accompanied by two supporting vehicles - allows for the safe transportation and administration of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The van was first deployed on 6 May when it was parked outside a local mosque - vaccinating 40 people over the course of an hour and a half - and will travel to other community locations in the coming months.

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GPs running the van have said that they are confident of boosting the number of patients they can vaccinate - and are planning to repurpose the van for other clinics in the future, such as baby immunisations and maternity checks.

Clinical director of Benfleet PCN Dr Smitesh Patel told GPonline that a previous hobby of fixing up cars led him to think differently about how practices could deliver the COVID-19 vaccine.

He said: ‘When the vaccine programme started I thought about what we could do to improve our reach to those pockets where uptake is low or we had difficulty reaching out, such as the BAME community, the homeless, the travelling community and unregistered patients.

‘So I put the idea forward to our CCG. It eventually led to a couple of conversations with Ford - and we managed to secure a Transit van and a pair of support vehicles.’

Vulnerable patients

Dr Patel explained that the van and support vehicles would allow GP teams to carry out a vaccine clinic in places that they wouldn’t normally be able to, due to difficulty storing equipment.

A designated workspace allows clinicians to perform the preparation and dilution of vaccine - making use of a built-in fridge. Consumables, clinical waste and a sharps bin are stored in the back.

Patients enter the van following a one-in-one-out system, taking their place on a flip-down chair inside. Following their jab, they are able to sit in one of the support vehicles where they are observed.

Dr Patel said that the PCN was working with community leaders to help identify people wanting to receive the COVID-19 vaccine - operating a pre-booked system. Although the PCN leader hopes to be able to offer walk in appointments soon.

Vaccine van

‘We had our launch on 6 May, and we were able to vaccinate a number of people from the Muslim community at a local mosque and we’re going to move forward from that to other communites.

‘We vaccinated 40 people on that day in an hour and a half. It was purposely kept to a smaller number of people because it was our first opportunity to use the vehicle. But I think we could at least double that figure.’

Dr Patel says patients attending the mobile clinic have been ‘very happy’ because it is local, easy to access, and is over very quickly - with no waiting around.

He said uptake of COVID-19 jabs had been low early in the vaccination campaign, but this was now 'starting to improve'.Dr Patel added: 'If we can get out there and educate people and improve access...the van gives us the opportunity to do that.'

Flu vaccinations

There are ambitious plans to equip each PCN in the area with a van to be able to carry out jabs in community locations. However, for the time being Dr Patel says the original ‘vax van’ could be repurposed to continue to serve the community.

‘We’ve already had discussions [about using it for other purposes]. The flu jab in some ways will be much easier to deliver in the van, particularly if we are in a situation where we're able to give this third booster in conjunction with the flu vaccine this year. It would be perfect for reaching those same groups.’

A total of 36.7m people had received a first dose of vaccine UK-wide by 16 May - around 70% of the adult population. Nearly two in five adults UK-wide have now received both doses of vaccine.

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