A pharmacist from Keighley has been instrumental in the Covid-19 vaccine uptake in the area.
Umar Iqbal, 33, is the lead clinical pharmacist at Airedale, Wharfedale & Craven Modality Partnership, a role he has been in since November 2020.
Mr Iqbal studied at the University of Bradford for his undergraduate and postgraduate Pharmacy degrees and then graduated from the University of Leeds with a master’s in Advanced Practice and received a postgraduate qualification in Anticoagulation from the University of Warwick in 2017.
He comes from a family of people who work in healthcare. His wife, Mariam Amin, is a prescribing pharmacist, and in the extended family, there are a few consultants and doctors. His niece and brother-in-law also practice medicine.
The inspiration for entering the pharmacy industry comes from working in the community. Mr Iqbal said: “Keighley is not the most privileged of areas. A lot of areas suffer from crime and deprivation, a lack of education, and health inequalities.
“When I was 17, I was a youth worker where I did a lot of projects and charity work. I come from an upbringing, where my father especially, has worked tirelessly for the community every single week and that is what has been embedded into me.
“Going into healthcare comes from the intrinsic nature of wanting to care for people and get people to be the better versions of themselves and care for themselves.”
He has worked as a clinical pharmacist for the NHS since 2012 and worked as an advanced clinical practitioner at Crosshills Group Practice at Modality Partnership for almost four years before landing the role he is in now.
Mr Iqbal said: “When the vaccine programme suddenly started, we needed to respond quite quickly to the Government’s request to open the clinics.
“The Pfizer vaccine needed aseptic preparation, meaning that it needed to be handled in a way that prevents contamination from pathogens, and as pharmacists, we are well trained in this.
“A lot of the pharmacists in my team have had this training in the past but we needed to update and refresh the training by arranging training sessions for the team and to make sure that the sites were set up appropriately and are clinically appropriate to deliver the vaccine programme. That is how I initially got involved and it progressed quite quickly after that, especially around vaccine hesitancy in the community.”
The pharmacist added: “The main challenge we had when delivering the vaccine programme is vaccine hesitancy. People were apprehensive about the safety of the vaccine some of this was due to misinformation on social media.
“There were a lot of myths surrounding what the vaccines would deliver especially with it being new technology. There was a lot of fear around Covid-19 at the time and there was a lack of trust in it by community members around how safe the vaccine may be and around side effects, and that it may not have been tested for long enough, there were some genuine concerns by the public.”
To counter the fake news surrounding the vaccine and the anxieties felt around it, Mr Iqbal and his team set up various groups and set up campaigns locally to tackle the misinformation and provide information on the safety of the vaccine and to allow the public to make an informed decision to get the vaccination or not.
“We also stressed the importance of why people needed to get it”, the pharmacist added. He said: “I think at a time and even now, the media and the government didn’t go into detail about the science behind the vaccine.
“You see Sir Chris Whitty often correcting the prime minister, so there is lots of information from a science perspective we have tried to get out to the people in Keighley and it has been really well received.”
The partnership has held forums and had direct conversations in clinics, allowing the public to ask open questions and people translate the information in different languages so that all people can access the information.
The lead pharmacist said: “Vaccine hesitancy has not just been a population-based problem, based on the Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic communities, for example. In Keighley, the areas with the lowest uptakes in the vaccine are predominantly white and working-class areas.
“If you look at the facts and statistics of vaccination uptake, you will find that central areas of many towns and cities, central wards will have a lower area of vaccine uptake, but if you look at Central Ward in Keighley, it has a much higher rate than areas of similar demographics in other areas.”
As of yesterday, 10 January 2022, 67.4% of people in Keighley Central & East have had their first Covid-19 vaccine, 58.7% of the population have had their second jab, and 33.6% of people have had a third dose or booster jab.
This is compared to Central Bradford and Barkerend West, where 56.6% of people over the age of twelve have received their first dose, 47.7% of people have received a second dose, and 18.2% of received a third or booster dose.
In Harehills in Leeds, 52.1% of the population have received one dose of the Covid-19 jab, 44.7% of people have received a second dose, and 20.8% have received a third dose or booster shot.
The clinical lead said: “The work that I’ve done, alongside my colleagues, trying to get the message out there has helped in vaccine uptake and the work is still ongoing.”
Mr Iqbal was instrumentally involved in setting up the award-winning collaboration between Modality Partnership, Keighley Markazi Jamia Mosque, and the Keighley Muslim Association that saw over 50,000 Covid-19 vaccinations administered at the mosque.
Keighley Markazi Jamia Mosque, otherwise known as Emily Street Mosque, was one of the first mosques in Britain to operate a pop-up clinic from a place of worship.
“It wasn’t because it was just directed at the South Asian community, it was directed at all communities, but we felt that when the community saw local politicians, councillors, members of the community who are valued get their vaccines, it would lead to other people following.”, Mr Iqbal added.
“In some communities, they rely on what the senior members of the communities do for guidance and support so that was a key strategy. It is evident that Covid-19 kills and that it can become quite serious, especially in our community, so it was very important for us to get that message out there.”
The vaccination site at Keighley Markazi Jamia Mosque has now moved to the nearby Sangat Centre and operates three times a week. For more information, visit here.