Vulnerable elderly people aged over 75 are being expected to make a 43-mile round-trip to have their Covid vaccine booster because there are no local services.
Monmouth residents need to travel to the recently opened vaccination centre at Coleg Gwent’s Pontypool campus, but public transport links are poor and taxis expensive.
A community car scheme is unable to help as the service is overstretched and short of volunteers.
Monmouth MP David Davies has demanded answers about why the fourth-dose spring booster cannot be offered in Monmouth.
“By definition, those being invited for an extra booster dose of the vaccine are the most vulnerable in our communities,” he said.
“The over 75s are statistically less mobile and least likely to have easy access to transport when public options are limited and taxis are hideously expensive.”
Mr Davies said he understood the Pfizer vaccine is being used at Pontypool and once it is thawed, can be stored in a fridge for up to 31 days.
He added: “I fail to see why the health board cannot work out how many over 75s there are in Monmouth and then take the right amount of vaccine to the area to distribute.
“In the past, highly successful clinics were held at both Bridges Community Centre and Monnow Vale, so I am struggling to understand why previous effective arrangements cannot be reinstated to save local people unnecessary inconvenience, hassle and stress.”
Mr Davies was alerted to the issue by Monmouth resident Richard Kimberley. He said there was an “air of despondency” surrounding the over 75s “whose needs are being blatantly ignored.”
“The situation is getting worse rather than better,” said Mr Kimberley, who has volunteered at Monnow Vale day centre and now drives electric vehicles at Bridges Community Centre.
“I have estimated there are 600 over 75s in Monmouth but it could be a lot more.
“People in this age group are saying to me they feel forgotten in this town. They are questioning why other people are getting services and they are not.
“Likewise, staff at the vaccination booking centre have told me that many offered appointments are being refused simply because people cannot get to Pontypool.”
In a letter to Mr Kimberley and Mr Davies, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board said mass vaccination centres offer the most effective way of delivering the spring booster vaccination programme at “scale and pace”, with Monmouthshire residents invited to attend in Pontypool or at Newport Centre.
Interim chief executive Glyn Jones added: “The health board has worked and continues to work with the local authorities across Gwent to obtain appropriate venues to hold mass vaccination centres.
“Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain a static venue within the Monmouthshire locality, however the programme is hosting a number of pop-up clinics within the area as and when required.
“Recent performance data for the uptake rate of the Covid-19 vaccination for Monmouthshire residents is showing that it has the highest uptake of the booster dose in the over 50s age group across Gwent and Wales. We will continue to monitor uptake rates and organise pop-up vaccination clinics in areas of lower uptake and adapt the programme accordingly.”
Mr Jones also confirmed the community car scheme would not take any new bookings at the present time after it was “overwhelmed with requests and registrations. The service had a “limited amount” of volunteer drivers and was at “full capacity” so could not continue to support transport to vaccination centres, he said.
Mr Kimberley responded saying the health board was “offering platitudes” but despairing residents “want action”.
“It’s Pontypool or bust. This is a disgraceful and totally impractical system which cannot achieve its aim and purpose,” he added.
“What we are effectively seeing is, I believe, the centralisation of NHS services to the Cwmbran area.”
Mr Davies called on the new leader of Monmouthshire County Council to “work with him” and persuade Welsh Health Minister Eluned Morgan to order a change of policy.