Children in some parts of England are three times more likely to be vaccinated than others, figures from the House of Commons library show, prompting Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s newly appointed shadow education secretary, to criticise the government for its lacklustre efforts to vaccinate young teenagers.
The figures – collated by the House of Commons library and distributed by Labour – reveal that in some parts of London just one in five children aged between 12 and 15 had received a vaccination at the start of December.
Phillipson, who was promoted to the shadow cabinet last week, said the government was making a strategic error in not improving vaccination take-up among children and exposing them to the Omicron variant. She wants children to be able to access walk-in clinics, as well as a campaign to promote the benefits of vaccinations to parents and discredit the “anti-vax disinformation” she said was being pushed at children and their families.
“As Omicron cases in the UK are starting to rise it’s even more important that we speed up vaccine rollout, but the government’s lacklustre approach is putting children’s education at risk of further disruption,” Phillipson said.
The figures show that by 2 December just under 20% of children aged 12 to 15 had received their first Covid vaccine in the London borough of Hackney and the City of London. But in Newbury and elsewhere in the West Berkshire local authority, more than three times as many (62%) of the same age group had been jabbed.
Overall, London has the lowest regional vaccination rate with just one in three children having received their first jab. The south-east of England is the only region where at least half of 12-to 15-year-olds have been vaccinated. But in the north-west and the West Midlands just 40% of children have done so, leaving many vulnerable to infection.
Labour said the government’s promise that all 12-to-15-year-olds would be offered a vaccination by the October half-term break has proved to be empty. The Department for Education’s latest attendance figures showed that Covid remains rife within schools in England, as more than 185,000 pupils and students were out of the classroom with confirmed or suspected Covid symptoms at the end of last month.
“The Conservatives have been complacent and children are paying the price. The government must get a grip and stop neglecting children’s education,” Phillipson said.
“Labour has been urging ministers to use every measure from pop-up and walk-in clinics to bringing back volunteers and retired clinicians to ramp-up vaccine rollout. This must come alongside finally introducing the ventilation in schools that Sage recommended well over a year ago.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said that the vaccination programme in England has been “a phenomenal success,” with children able to be vaccinated at school or using the national booking system.
To “turbocharge” the vaccine programme covering schoolchildren, Labour is calling for better use of community pharmacies, walk-in clinics and pop-up clinics to make it easier for families to get children jabbed and for parents to get booster doses.
Labour said that “mayors, local authorities, and health leaders have worked hard to increase uptake but are urging government to provide more support”.
On the possibility of vaccinations for younger children, Labour also wants “clarity for parents” over approval of the vaccine for those aged under 12, after the Pfizer vaccine was approved for younger children by US regulators.