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  • Writer's pictureDr Tamara Joffe

Dr Tamara Joffe: on community resilience

Fresh ideas and knowledge of place and communities is what has made the vaccine roll-out work. Mass vaccination sites look impressive but the myriad of small community pop-ups, often based in faiths centres, in the heart of communities has brought people in to get vaccinated who for many reasons find this a difficult thing to do. Just rolling up your sleeve makes it sound like no thought has to take place but for many, protection only comes at last, and hopefully not too late, after many discussions. This is where faith leaders have had such an important role, and not just for the observant or active in a faith community.

I have worked as a GP for 21 years in South Kilburn, a small pocket of high deprivation, high density housing, incredible diversity: immigrants and asylum seekers have gravitated to this small area for 150 years or more. Communication with the many languages spoken, and now exacerbating this, digital poverty, has made discussions about protection against Covid another, more intense and universal example of the challenges of healthcare engagement here.

In January, I was ringing up patients - and eventually going round to knock on doors, to invite them for vaccines at the centres, some several bus rides away, at the height of the second wave. These are people who do not have safe private transport. Tragically, some weren’t answering as they were already ill, in hospital or sadly, in two cases in January, had died at home before anyone knew they had caught Covid.

I heard about another GP, Sharon Raymond, who set up and runs the Vaxi Taxi service. Sharon brought to life incredible pragmatic ideas: I collaborated with her Vaxi Taxi events with the London Fire Brigade setting up a tent for small (literally) pop-up vaccine clinics; I brought the patients and the vials of vaccine.

Since then, I have gathered a team of volunteering doctors and pharmacists and administrators to run regular vaccine clinics in this area of high exposure to COVID, high health risks and low vaccine uptake. Our community pop-up vaccination clinic in a bright familiar local community centre in the middle of South Kilburn has now delivered 2,560 vaccines, 570 in just the last five days as part of the nation-wide surge effort against the Delta variant.

Key to this small clinic’s success has been the diversity of our team itself and the work of so many from different faiths, bringing together representatives and faiths leaders via the Faiths Forum For London.

Interfaith leaders at the Markaz El Tathgheef El Eslami Islamic centre in Golders Green, promoting vaccinations

This in turn has helped people reconsider their initial, sometimes monolithic, rejection of getting vaccinated against covid, and ultimately many have since come in for their jabs. An interfaith celebration of Iftar on 15th April was a glorious turning point, with ten faiths leaders coming together to break the fast if Muslim and we all shared a meal, and many received their first or second vaccine. It gave many courage, and in its wake we have had amazing volunteers making a significant contribution to the clinic and the community.

Watch our Interfaith Insights Facebook Live show with Dr Tamara Joffe here:

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