The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) commissioned IFF research to conduct an evaluation of the Community Vaccine Champions (CVC) programme.
Using a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods, alongside published vaccination data, we were able to understand the impact of the CVC funding and identify transferable learning that can be built on for further initiatives.
What is the Community Vaccine Champions programme?
In January 2022, as a response to the uneven effects of the pandemic in the country, the UK Government allocated £22.5m of Community Vaccine Champions (CVC) programme funding to 60 local authorities (LAs). Their task was to deliver bespoke projects that would promote vaccine uptake and address wider health inequalities, focusing on areas with the lowest vaccination rates.
The funding was launched in November 2021 when the UK was experiencing a peak of COVID-19 due to the new Omicron variant. In England, nearly 4 million people had COVID-19 by January 2022 (around 1 in 15 people) . Vaccinations had been available to all adults aged 18 and over for at least 6 months at this stage . However, more than 1 in 5 people in England aged 10 or over remained unvaccinated, with the largest proportion tending to cluster in communities and neighbourhoods already most impacted by existing health inequalities.
Building on an established Community Champions model
The ‘Community Champions’ model  was introduced as a means of supporting some of these most underserved and under-vaccinated communities across England. Champions are volunteers who promote health and wellbeing within their established social networks by using their connections and lived experience to improve services and overcome barriers in their communities. They seek to build engagement with communities, who may otherwise have low levels of trust in government and health services. Champions collaborate with communities and co-produce activities and services that appeal to them, to overcome some of these barriers .
Evaluation challenges and responses
We had no baseline data to work with that would help us assess the impact of the programme, having started our evaluation after CVC had launched. We pragmatically dealt with this challenge by creating a resident’s survey about ‘now’ and ‘the start of the year’ to understand distance travelled.
Another issue we faced was in finding similar areas to the CVC areas that we could use to compare with. We found that the most similar similar Local Authority areas that we initially considered as a basis to compare the 10 CVC areas participating in the evaluation to had also received CVC funding so could not be used. To overcome this challenge, we drilled down into smaller individual wards within other non-CVC local authorities that both matched well with the CVC areas we were focusing on and had also not received CVC funding.
What we learnt
We learnt that the CVC-approach was successful at a number of levels. Key to this was the delivery of an estimated 562 additional COVID-19 booster vaccine doses, delivering a net social value of c.£5.7 million in prevented COVID-19 cases alone, for costs of £4 million. Assuming these estimates are representative for all 60 CVC-funded LAs, the additional social value is estimated at around £26.1 million, for spend of £18.9 million – meaning an estimated £1.38 in value for every £1 spent.
While our qualitative evidence suggested the Champions approach had been successful working across a range of communities and contexts, our quantitative evidence showed that minority faith community groups saw a statistically significant positive impact on COVID-19 vaccine boosters.
From impact analysis conducted with our partners, Bryson Purdon.
How did the model work?
The CVC-funding vaccine promotion work included:
- Encouraging community leaders to share positive vaccine experiences.
- Vaccine promotion messages tailored and delivered by Champions with lived experience.
- Vaccine promotion and vaccine opportunities being delivered in spaces where communities already felt comfortable.
The importance of built-in flexibility
We learnt that the flexibility the CVC approach offered was one of the key features of the programme’s success:
- Local authorities could work flexibly with grassroots delivery partners and champions, with micro grants and light-touch monitoring providing the necessary freedom for them to work in the way they considered most appropriate to reaching their targeted communities.
- Following bespoke training across the programme, delivery partners and champions could work adaptively and responsively with communities and offer much broader health and wellbeing-focused initiatives as a way of opening up conversations around vaccination attitudes and uptake.
The importance of locally embedded Champions with lived experience
Champions were recruited from local organisations with lived experience of local issues and from a diversity of cultures. This meant that they could build on pre-existing networks, often established by voluntary and community sector organisations, to reach out and more easily build trust with communities they needed to engage with. Often, successful engagement was also supported by using more creative approaches that enabled community members to feel comfortable and safe to share their views and ask questions. Champions could then combat misinformation and open-up discussions that could lead to more positive assessments of vaccinations and wider health issues, ultimately driving behaviour change.
What we can learn from the CVC programme for the future
Trusted networks and voices appear to be critical influencers when working with minority communities and neighbourhoods impacted by health inequalities. The CVC programme represents an important proof of concept that working with in this way can be effective. Learning from the success of the Champions model could be useful to apply in other contexts and be an especially valuable blueprint for government-led public health interventions
Overall, the CVC programme’s approach enabled the work to be delivered creatively and collaboratively with community-based organisations, based on lived experience of relevant issues. The programme represents a positive example of government funding structures providing flexibility, which can empower grassroots organisations to deliver based on the understanding of their communities. The programme has also contributed to a legacy of improved relationships with community-based organisations, forming a strong foundation for other similar initiatives that could benefit from this approach in the future.
IFF Research’s full report on the CVC programme evaluation can be found here.
 NHS vaccination data, analysed for this evaluation by Belmana.