Labour has warned that some younger teenagers may still be waiting for their coronavirus jabs some 15 weeks after officials had hoped to offer them the vaccine.
The party said that, at the current rate of progress, some 12-15-year-olds will not get their jabs until February – despite an ambition from NHS England to offer the vaccine to all eligible teenagers in that age group by the October half-term.
It accused the Government of taking a “lacklustre approach”, which it said was “keeping children out of school”.
But a Tory source told the PA news agency that the ruling party would not be taking “any lessons from Labour on how to roll out vaccines”.
The source said: “They wanted to keep us in the European Medicines Agency – if we had listened to them, our world leading rollout would have been delayed.”
Latest figures suggest that 1.6% of all pupils, about 130,000 children, were not in class for reasons connected to coronavirus on November 11.
This was down from about 248,000 children, or 3.2% of all pupils, on October 21, the week before many schools went on half-term.
Labour based its prediction that some younger teenagers may not get their jabs until next year on the average vaccination rate for the past four weeks.
If the rollout were to continue at the current pace, it would take until February 7 to vaccinate the remaining eligible 12-15-year-olds, the party said.
Labour called on the Government to make “better use” of community pharmacies and walk-in and pop-up clinics to make it easier for parents to get their children vaccinated.
It also said more volunteers and retired clinicians should be brought back to speed up the rollout.
Vaccines have been available to 12-to-15-year-olds in England since September 20, and initially they were delivered mainly by NHS teams in schools.
Children have been treated as an afterthought throughout this pandemic and continue to be let down by a Conservative Government which has shown no care for them and their futures
Kate Green, shadow education secretary
This changed just before the October half-term holiday when parents and children became able to book a jab online at a local vaccination centre.
Kate Green, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “Children have been treated as an afterthought throughout this pandemic and continue to be let down by a Conservative Government which has shown no care for them and their futures.
“Labour has been urging ministers to make every effort to get the vaccine out to children over 12, from pop-up and walk-in clinics to bringing back volunteers and retired clinicians.
“This must come alongside finally introducing the ventilation in schools that Sage recommended well over a year ago and giving schools the support they need on masks and other mitigations.
“The Conservatives have been complacent, and children are paying the price. The Government must get a grip and stop neglecting children’s education.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Our vaccination programme continues to be a phenomenal success and children can get vaccinated at school or use the national booking system – already over 40% of 12 to 15-year-olds have been vaccinated.
“Vaccines save lives and we are doing everything we can to keep encouraging more people to come forward – our booster programme has made huge progress with over 15 million doses administered so far across the UK.”