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This study describes the development of a pilot sentinel school absence syndromic surveillance system. Using data from a sample of schools in England the capability of this system to monitor the impact of disease on school absences in school-aged children is shown, using the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic period as an example. Data were obtained from an online app service used by schools and parents to report their children absent, including reasons/symptoms relating to absence. For 2019 and 2020, data were aggregated into daily counts of ‘total’ and ‘cough’ absence reports. There was a large increase in the number of absence reports in March 2020 compared to March 2019, corresponding to the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in England. Absence numbers then fell rapidly and remained low from late March 2020 until August 2020, while lockdown was in place in England. Compared to 2019, there was a large increase in the number of absence reports in September 2020 when schools re-opened in England, although the peak number of absences was smaller than in March 2020. This information can help provide context around the absence levels in schools associated with COVID-19. Also, the system has the potential for further development to monitor the impact of other conditions on school absence, e.g. gastrointestinal infections.
Since 2016, the European Region has experienced large-scale measles outbreaks. Several measles outbreaks in England during 2017/18 specifically affected Romanian and Romanian Roma communities. In this qualitative interview study, we looked at the effectiveness of outbreak responses and efforts to promote vaccination uptake amongst these underserved communities in three English cities: Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with 33 providers involved in vaccination delivery and outbreak management in these cities. Interviews were analysed thematically and factors that influenced the effectiveness of responses were categorised into five themes: (1) the ability to identify the communities, (2) provider knowledge and understanding of the communities, (3) the co-ordination of response efforts and partnership working, (4) links to communities and approaches to community engagement and (5) resource constraints. We found that effective partnership working and community engagement were key to the prevention and management of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks in the communities. Effective engagement was found to be compromised by cuts to public health spending and services for underserved communities. To increase uptake in under-vaccinated communities, local knowledge and engagement are vital to build trust and relationships. Local partners must work proactively to identify, understand and build connections with communities.
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