Darlington: Vaccination bus offers easier route to COVID-19 jabs

Over the summer of 2021, Darlington Borough Council’s very own vaccine bus hit the roads across Darlington to encourage more people to get their COVID-19 vaccines.

From regular walk-in clinics at the Darlington Arena Large Vaccination Centre, Firthmoor Community Centre and Cockerton Pharmacy, to pop-ups in the town centre for events such as Darlington Pride, getting your COVID vaccine in Darlington was made quicker and easier than ever before.

Yet, the vaccines were still not accessible to all residents, such as those without their own transport and those hesitant to visit a vaccine site in the town.

Pulling out all the stops

The council-owned vaccine bus, formally the mobile library, was repurposed for use as a mobile vaccination clinic during the pandemic. It started its tour by visiting sites across the borough, offering eligible residents the opportunity to get vaccinated close to their homes. By providing the bus, the council aimed to remove as many barriers as possible to being vaccinated for its communities.

The onboard team and supporting volunteers could also offer advice and support to those who were hesitant about getting their vaccines for other reasons – such as concerns about side effects.

The volunteers, including staff from Darlington’s Primary Care Network and the council’s COVID  ambassadors, were able to offer support by visiting the homes near the clinics the day before the bus was scheduled to visit, and giving residents flyers detailing the time and date of the clinic, as well as which vaccines would be on offer and why it was important to get vaccinated. The flyers were also produced  in several languages including Arabic, Bengali and Sylheti and given to community centres and shops in the area to display.

The mobile clinic also aimed to boost vaccination rates in areas of the town where uptake had  been lower than average, by providing pop-up clinics in convenient locations.

In-depth data on the town’s vaccination uptake, provided by the Public Health team, heavily influenced the targeted bus route. It  allowed the bus clinics to be held in the most convenient and accessible locations for the areas with  low uptake.

Anyone who had yet to come forward for their first vaccine, or anyone who had yet to come forward for their second vaccine after the a minimum of eight-week wait  after their first, was eligible to stop by a clinic to have their vaccinations.

Appointments were not required, and an onboard team of vaccinators and support staff were on hand to address any issues of vaccine hesitancy from the fear of needles, to being concerned about a possible allergic reaction  to an ingredient in the vaccine.

The quick and easy nature of grabbing a jab at one of the mobile clinics was especially appealing to younger residents who did not have the time to visit a site for an appointment.

College bus clinics

As the NHS COVID-19 programme rolled on, the COVID vaccine was offered to 16- and 17-year-olds ahead of the September college term.

To make it as easy as possible for teens in Darlington to grab their jabs before returning to college, the council’s vaccination bus added to its community-focused route to offer on-site college clinics.

In the first two weeks of term, the bus stopped at the town’s other three further education facilities: Darlington College, Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College and Carmel College Sixth Form.

By using targeted social media advertising, in addition to providing flyers and digital assets for the colleges to publicise the clinics, the bus was successful in driving vaccination uptake amongst the student population of the town.

Jabs for town-centre visitors

The final stage of the vaccine bus tour saw walk-in clinics offered in the town centre during popular events and on weekends, where thousands of residents and visitors could grab a jab.

The town centre, which has been awarded Purple Flag status, was able to ensure an extra safety measure was in place for its most popular summer and autumn events including its Food Festival and Arts Festival, by offering  walk-in vaccinations to passers-by.

In total, over a thousand COVID vaccinations were provided by the bus; a community-focused project that brought together the local authority, the NHS and volunteers to provide easily- accessible vaccinations and protect Darlington’s communities.

The bus hopes to hit the road once again to support the booster rollout, as the NHS COVID-19 vaccination programme continues into 2022.