New research highlights power of local engagement to increase Covid-19 vaccine take-up

Date: 19 November 2021

A new UK-US collaborative study examining vaccine engagement highlights the importance of tapping into local knowledge and leadership in efforts to improve Covid-19 vaccine take-up.

The research, ‘Understanding vaccine hesitancy through communities of place’, was funded by the British Academy, the Social Science Research Council, and the UK’s Science and Innovation Network in the USA, and delivered by The Young Foundation’s Institute for Community Studies and the US’ Institute for Community research. It explores levels of vaccine engagement in four locations: Oldham and Tower Hamlets in the UK, and the cities of Boston and Hartford in the US.

London, UK – April 22, 2021: Peole in the queue for COVID19 vaccine in front of a vaccination centre.

The project reviewed existing evidence and conducted fresh research to identify how national policies for vaccine distribution and education have influenced take-up of the jab. This involved speaking to more than 120 representatives of community organisations, local health systems, local government, the voluntary and civil society sector, and key faith and frontline institutions.

In all four localities, the survey finds the authorities’ ‘top-down’ approach to vaccine distribution and education has been ineffective, and that applying a ‘community engagement approach’ instead –involving community groups and trusted leaders in vaccine distribution and education – can improve take-up rates.

The researchers recommend that efforts should be made to vaccinate harder-to-reach groups, such as former prisoners and young people in insecure housing. Further, policymakers and service-providers are urged to recognise historical trauma and discriminatory experiences, and include these within Covid-19 vaccination messaging and strategies.

Professor Simon Goldhill FBA, Foreign Secretary and Vice-President at the British Academy, says: “Whether it is cross-faith leaders coming together in Tower Hamlets to facilitate pop-up vaccination groups or GPs in Oldham joining forces with local councilors to help rollout vaccinations to the homeless, this report examines innovative measures communities are taking to strengthen vaccine engagement.”

Professor Anna Harvey, President at the Social Science Research Council, notes that the report “highlights the need for researchers and policymakers to better understand the ways in which community organisations can support important public health outreach campaigns. We know little about the ways in which local organisations like libraries, civic clubs, faith-based organisations, sports teams, and others can support the uptake of reliable and accurate public health information, and can counter the damaging effects of inaccurate and misleading health information. This report is a call-to-action for further investment in research on the role of community-based organisations in supporting a more resilient public health ecosystem.”

Ronit Prawer, Director (Eastern USA) at the Science and Innovation Network, USA, agrees. “Research of this nature is crucial in helping us to better understand the myriad of complex factors at play in vaccine distribution and education, and in supporting evidence-based policymaking,” she says.

Reflecting on the project overall, Emily Morrison, Head of the Institute for Community Studies, concludes: “The process of working collaboratively with local partners who are directly leading the vaccination rollout was very humbling, both in their evident and untiring commitment to supporting equitable engagement to vaccination acceptance and vaccine education, and in their extensive shaping and contribution to this research itself. Working with local systems to demonstrate the importance of understanding communities of place is crucial in the delivery of health – especially through times of crisis”.