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Almost 80 per cent of West Berkshire's population has received coronavirus vaccine - official data

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Almost 80 per cent of West Berkshire's population above the age of 16 has received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine - above the UK national average.

This marks the culmination of a campaign spanning most of 2021, with large sections of the community mobilised in promoting and administering the jab.

As of October 2, 121,779 people in the district have received at least a first dose, out of a total population of 158,527.

Vaccination rates for West Berkshire (source: coronavirus.data.gov.uk).
Vaccination rates for West Berkshire (source: coronavirus.data.gov.uk).

The rollout kicked off in December last year at local GP surgeries, and was given a boost in January with the opening of the Newbury Racecourse clinic.

At its height, this vaccination hub employed around 500 people, 400 of them volunteers.

It became recognised as a centrepiece of the West Berkshire pandemic response, having administered 66,500 individual doses to patients by the time it closed in June.

An 89-year-old resident receives her first dose of the vaccine at Newbury Racecourse.
An 89-year-old resident receives her first dose of the vaccine at Newbury Racecourse.

Initially, vaccination was limited primarily to those in designated vulnerable groups - namely the elderly and those with long-term illnesses or disabilities.

Nevertheless, take-up was exceptionally strong between December and April.

Between January 21 and March 21 this year, the number of West Berkshire residents who had received at least one dose climbed from 10,337 to 70,723 - a 584 per cent increase.

This was the most dramatic period of vaccination, and has not been repeated since - despite non-vulnerable under-50s only becoming eligible in April.

The Kennet Shopping clinic.
The Kennet Shopping clinic.

Between March and June of this year an additional 37,368 people were jabbed, representing a jump of around 52 per cent.

Between June and September, the slowdown was even more pronounced, increasing by just 12 per cent to 121,598 vaccines administered.

By June, the rollout was being supervised locally by a number of smaller clinics, with the racecourse hub phased out to allow for a resumption of sport and leisure activities.

These included hubs at the Kennet Centre and Boots in Newbury.

While uptake - especially in early months - was significant, it should be noted that this came with some caveats.

By June and July, West Berkshire Council's Local Outbreak Engagement Board reported the existence of 'vaccine inequalities' which needed to be addressed.

There was a lower vaccine uptake in the most deprived sections of West Berkshire than elsewhere in the district.

At a meeting of West Berkshire Council's Local Engagement Board in July, it was highlighted that vaccination rates in Greenham ward were 14 per cent lower than in Thatcham ward - and this discrepancy was especially pronounced among younger cohorts.

Efforts have now been made to address these gaps, including the rollout of a 'Health on the Move' van in June.

This mobile vaccine van physically brought the jab to communities with a lower-than-average uptake, and also engaged with local homeless people.

A spokesperson for West Berkshire Council said: "West Berkshire Council works closely with our local NHS partners, such as the Berkshire West CCG and Health Watch, to encourage people to get a vaccination as we know that being vaccinated is our best line of defence to protect both ourselves and those around us.

"What we have done is share the details on how people will be contacted to get their vaccination, work with the NHS to find vaccination centres and sites, co-ordinate the Health on the Move bus to ensure there is easy access for the community to go and get their jab plus work with residents, businesses, the media, partners and community groups to ensure information on testing, vaccine hesitation and how to get the vaccination is readily available across all our communication channels."

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