Headteachers’ unions are calling for children to be allowed to use walk-in vaccination centres in England after new figures revealed the scale of the low take-up of the Covid-19 jab among young teenagers.
In some areas the rate of vaccine uptake is as low as 5%, while only 15 local authorities in England have managed to give a first jab to at least a quarter of 12- to 15-year-olds, data shows.
The picture is very different in Scotland, where young people can also receive doses of the jab in drop-in vaccination centres, as the take-up is already over 50% in half of local authority areas.
School leaders’ unions are concerned that 12- to 15-year-olds in England are missing out on getting the Covid-19 vaccination in school due to a high level of cases amongst the cohort, as well as logistical problems with vaccination teams having insufficient staff to deal with students needing jabs.
Three million pupils aged between 12 and 15 across the UK are eligible to receive a first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine as part of a rollout that began a month ago.
In England, jabs are being carried out in schools by nurses and immunisation teams.
By contrast, in Scotland doses can be received by attending drop-in vaccination centres at GP clinics, pharmacies and community centres.
But reports suggest that children under 16 in England could soon be offered jabs at walk-in centres due to delays with the vaccine rollout.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said they are going to keep the vaccination programme for 12- to 15-year-olds “under review” as he said it was “at a scale and pace which is unusual”.
Figures show that take-up of a first dose of Covid-19 vaccine among young teenagers is below 10% in just over a third of the main local authorities in England.
Analysis by the PA news agency of Government data for vaccinations delivered up to October 16 shows that:
– In 55 of the 149 upper tier local authorities in England, or 37% of the total, fewer than one in 10 children aged 12 to 15 are estimated to have received a first dose.
– Barking & Dagenham has the lowest take-up (3.5%), followed by Newham and Lewisham (both 5.2%), all of which are in London.
– Wokingham in Berkshire has the highest take-up (36.2%) and is the only area currently above 33%, followed by Derbyshire, Hertfordshire and Warrington (all 29.1%).
– In Scotland, 16 of the 32 local authority areas have now given a first dose to at least 50% of all 12 to 15-year-olds, with Dumfries & Galloway recording the highest take-up (62.9%) followed by Perth & Kinross (62.6%) and the Orkney Islands (62.1%). Highland (17.0%) has the lowest take-up.
– Take-up among 12 to 15-year-olds for the whole of Scotland now stands at 46.5%, compared with just 15.0% in England.
James Bowen, director of policy for school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Allowing 12-15 year olds to attend walk-in vaccination centres would be a sensible decision.
“Those who want to get the vaccination should be able to do so as quickly as possible.
“We know that the high level of cases amongst this age group has led to some pupils who want the vaccine not being able to get it in school, either because they are absent on the day or because they have tested positive for Covid-19 within the last 28 days.
“Assuming that this is designed to complement the existing in-school arrangements then it seems the sensible thing to do.
“It remains crucial that the in-school programme is rolled out as quickly as possible. We know that the health teams working in schools are working tirelessly to achieve this, but they need full support from the Government.”
A first dose of vaccine cannot be delivered to someone if they are within four weeks of testing positive for Covid-19, waiting for the results of a coronavirus test, or self-isolating.
Around one in 10 children in England in school years seven to 11 were likely to have tested positive for Covid-19 in the week to October 9, the highest rate for any age group, according to estimates from the Office for National Statistics.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “We are hearing reports from around the country of very varied delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine to 12 to 15-year-olds in schools and significant delays to the vaccination programme, which the Government had originally hoped to complete by half-term.
“Schools have reported logistical problems such as the vaccination teams having insufficient staff to deal with the number of students needing jabs, running out of vaccines or even not turning up when they have arranged to.
“The Government needs to do everything possible to boost the delivery and take-up of the vaccination and we are encouraged by reports that allowing young people to attend vaccination drop-in centres, in addition to schools, is being actively considered.
“This would seem a very sensible way of quickly boosting the number of students who have been vaccinated.”
Asked why there appeared to be problems in getting jabs into the arms of pupils, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “There are a number of different factors, there’s no one single issue that presents a challenge.
“As ever with Covid-19 there are a number of challenges to overcome.”
In response to anti-vaccination campaigners protesting outside schools, the spokesman said: “It is completely unacceptable for anyone to direct abuse or misinformation towards parents, teachers or indeed children.”
It was “abhorrent” and the authorities would support those affected, he added.
In a joint letter to parents of secondary school and college pupils last week, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi and Health Secretary Sajid Javid urged parents to get their children vaccinated against Covid-19.
“Vaccines are our best defence against Covid-19.
“They help protect young people, and benefit those around them.
“Vaccination makes people less likely to catch the virus and less likely to pass it on,” the letter said.
Separate figures published by Public Health Wales show that as of October 10, Neath Port Talbot was the only local authority in Wales where fewer than 10% of 12 to 15-year-olds had received one dose of vaccine (7.4%).
All other local authorities were above 10%, ranging from Gwynedd (10.2%) to Merthyr Tydfil (48.5%).
The overall take-up for Wales as of October 10 was 21.8%.
Northern Ireland has yet to begin publishing vaccination figures for 12 to 15-year-olds.