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Vaccination in churches not that easy, guidance warns

08 December 2020


A care-home worker, Pillay Jagambrun, aged 61, receives one of the first Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine doses at Croydon University Hospital, south London, on Tuesday

A care-home worker, Pillay Jagambrun, aged 61, receives one of the first Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine doses at Croydon University Hospital, south ...

CHURCHES and cathedrals that have offered to become temporary vaccination centres should be aware of logistical issues that might make it difficult, new Church of England guidance says.

‘It’s ok, Mrs Jones, you don’t have to kneel’

It was announced last month that the first effective coronavirus vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, had been found to be more than 90 per cent effective in protecting people from infection. The first doses of the vaccine were administered in the UK on Tuesday.

Updated coronavirus guidance for churches, published on the C of E website on Tuesday, says that it is “admirable that so many churches and cathedrals have suggested that they may be able to provide space for vaccination centres” (News, 13 November). It sets out, however, “some of the logistical issues that churches might consider when deciding if their buildings could be appropriate centres”.

The guidance notes: “Most of the vaccination hubs being set up are expecting to process upwards of 1000 people a day — they need large spaces that are not needed for any other purposes, and that can be kept for the purposes of vaccinations for up to a year. If you do not have a dedicated space that can be given over to this purpose, it is likely to be difficult for you to offer your church.”

Factors that churches and cathedrals should consider include:

  • The size of the space that they can offer for vaccinations. “Are you sure you won’t need it for other purposes for as long as the vaccination centre remains in place? Are there adequate toilet facilities and easy access to water and electricity supplies? Does what you can offer fit with what your local NHS Trust or resilience forum needs?”
  • How easily health staff and the public will be able to travel to the building. Transport routes and parking availability should be considered, as well as whether vans can get near enough to the building to deliver medical supplies and collect clinical waste. There also needs to be enough space on site for vaccine patients to wait, and a one-way system should be set up across the site to aid social distancing.
  • How accessible the building is. Questions to consider include whether the building has had an access audit; whether it can be accessed by wheelchair users, people with buggies, small children, and those who have difficulty walking; whether there is an operational hearing loop and, if not, whether one could be installed; what visual markers need to be installed to enable people who are blind or visually impaired to access the building; whether there is at least one accessible toilet, in working order and free of clutter. Online information should be available for people to plan their visit.
  • The need to adapt the space. “Most vaccination centres need to set up a number of individual cubicles for the administration of vaccines, plus secure areas for storage of records, computers, medical waste, etc. Assuming that such interventions are temporary and do not have an impact on historic fabric, does the layout of your building allow for such a layout?”
  • The need for permissions. A licence or hiring agreement should be agreed between the PCC and whoever runs the vaccination centre, which includes information on fees and payment, insurance and liability arrangements, and agreement over access to and use of the space. Furthermore, churches and consecrated church halls will require a faculty, since running a vaccination centre is “a secular use rather than use of the church as a place of worship”, the guidance states. “However, Chancellors may issue Additional Matters Orders disapplying the need for faculties in their dioceses; but the position will, in each case, need to be checked with the DAC” (Diocesan Advisory Committee).

Churches that consider themselves suitable, and which have been invited by the NHS to set up a vaccination centre, should contact their DAC or archdeacon for advice, the guidance says. Cathedrals should contact the Cathedrals Fabric Commission, who “will work with your Fabric Advisory Committee to get you the right advice and get appropriate permissions in place”.

Jason BryantSign spotted beside the A367 at Peasdowne St John in Somerset

Separate to the guidance, a vaccines update published on Tuesday by the C of E’s Recovery Group notes that the requirements “are likely to be quite demanding. While some church properties might be suitable, many will not”.

On Wednesday, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who chairs Church of England’s Recovery Group, said that seeing the first vaccine administered “has brought hope to people around the world”.

She continued: “Developing these vaccines in record time has been a global triumph, and I’m immensely grateful to all those who have been involved. As well as administering the vaccine in the UK, our next challenge is to support its delivery globally — something which I know is at the forefront of the Government’s plans.”

She said that churches had worked during the pandemic to support communities and local health providers — for example, by hosting socially distanced foodbanks and storing personal protective equipment for hospitals. “I know that this work will continue as we recover from the pandemic, and churches will find ways to support vaccination programmes in the UK and around the world.”

The People’s Vaccine Alliance — a network of organisations, which includes Oxfam and Amnesty International — warned on Wednesday that nearly 70 poorer countries would be able to vaccinate only one in ten people.

Oxfam’s health-policy manager, Anna Marriott, said: “No one should be blocked from getting a life-saving vaccine because of the country they live in or the amount of money in their pocket. But unless something changes dramatically, billions of people around the world will not receive a safe and effective vaccine for Covid-19 for years to come.”

The Alliance called on pharmaceutical companies that are developing vaccines to share their technology and intellectual property, so that billions more doses can be manufactured.

Read more on the story from Paul Vallely, and in our leader comment this week

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