Littlehampton couple explain why they volunteered to be vaccine champions

A Littlehampton couple have volunteered to join the fight against misinformation and become vaccine champions in the community.

Monday, 25th January 2021, 12:17 pm
Tony and Margaret Lago from Littlehampton. Photo by Kate Henwood

In normal times, Tony Lago, 79, and Margaret Lago, 77, can usually be found playing at the Angmering Short Mat Bowls Club or spinning around a dance floor to rock and roll at Brighton Jive.

When the pandemic forced them to stay at home, they were eager to keep busy, and when they learned they could use their standing in the community to support efforts to beat coronavirus, they jumped at the chance.

The NHS in Sussex has recruited dozens of vaccine champions – trusted local people who they can train up to pass on information about the vaccine and vaccination proccess.

Margaret said: “They were concerned that there is some negativity out there regarding people not wanting to get the vaccine.

“They think it’s a lack of information.

“There are people out there who say no, I’m not having anything put in my body, which is really negative, and we need to get the facts out there about the vaccine to make sure people don’t feel that way.

“I know there’s information out there, but not everybody reads it.”

With clubs and other social events suspended by the pandemic, the pair have been using social media – including Facebook groups such as Rustington Village News – to speak to people, particularly those in the 70 to 80s age group.

No one they have encountered so far has been totally against the vaccine, they said, but several people had raised concerns and questions.

For example, Margaret was able to inform someone who had been worried about having their jab because they were already taking other medication that staff would ask for their medical history before proceeding with the vaccine.

“We are not giving out medical answers, but we are reassuring people,” she said.

Tony has some experience in the health sector, having spent the last 18 year of his career working in mental health services, while Margaret said she could draw on the skills she gained as a manager at EDF Energy for the role.

The pair said their efforts were ‘most definitely’ having an impact.

“People are coming back to me and saying thank you so much, I went [for an apppointment] and it went perfectly,” Margaret said. “It gives us the enthusiasm to keep progressing and hopefully help more people.

“Even if it’s just two, three, four people – it’s more people who are spreading the news.”

Tony said: “It’s very satisfying and rewarding that you are doing something to dispel the myths about the vaccine.”

Being a vaccine champion kept them ‘productive, occupied and useful’, Tony said, while Margaret added: “The only way out of this situation in the country is to get as many vulnerable people vaccinated as we can.

“So if there’s anything we can do to help, we’re happy to do it.”

However they said the struggle to get answers to some concerns raised by residents had been frustrating.

Several were asking why they or their elderly relatives had still not been contacted about an appointment.

“If they could give us more information, it would possibly stop people worrying they’ve been forgotten,” Margaret said.

In a statement on its website, Westcourt Medical Centre urged people not to contact the surgery to enquire about appointments.

Patients over 80, care home residents and staff, and healthcare workers would be vaccinated first, and the statement read: “Please understand that the combined patient numbers in these age groups are in the thousands and therefore the booking of appointments will take time.”

Explaining the role of vaccine champions in a video online, Jane Lodge, associate director of public involvement, said: “We want to make sure communities in Sussex get the best possible information about accessing the covid vaccine....

“We know that sometimes the best way to get information out there is not through us as the NHS sending it out there, or just having it on a website.

“Often the best way to get to some of our communities is through those trusted community members, where people know that person, they trust that they’re giving them the right kind of information, and because of that we’ve now launched our covid vaccination champion programme.”

She said they had received ‘well over 100’ applications and had already trained up the first cohorts of champions.

She added: “We’d like to very much thank all those people who have volunteered their time to help us in this very important work.”