In Depth

Why ministers are facing scrutiny over ‘haphazard’ teen vaccination campaign

England’s Covid jab programme for 12 to 15-year-olds has fallen behind Scotland’s

England’s “incredibly slow” rollout of its Covid vaccination programme for teenagers risks further disruption to schools across the country, headteachers and parents have warned. 

Ministers have been accused of “losing a grip” on what has been described as a “haphazard” rollout of coronavirus vaccinations, said The Guardian. Early data suggests that the government has “little hope” of hitting its target of vaccinating all 12 to 15-year-olds by half-term.

“Anxious parents” have told The Guardian they are seeing Covid infections rise in their children’s schools “but have still not been given a vaccination date”. Meanwhile, headteachers speaking to the Independent complained of delayed or non-existent vaccination rollout dates.

“We haven’t heard a thing about vaccinations of our pupils,” Kieran McLaughlin, headmaster at Durham Cathedral Schools Foundation told the paper. 

According to the latest data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), 260,000 out of almost three million children aged 12 to 15 had received a jab by 3 October – fewer than one in ten. Of those, just 94,000 have been vaccinated since the rollout began in schools on 20 September.

And there was further “alarm”, said The Guardian, when former vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi – now the education secretary – appeared to have “no idea” how many of the age group had received their jab, said the paper. 

Speaking to Times Radio last week, Zahawi said he had not yet seen the vaccination data, but said a “lag” in schoolchildren receiving their jabs was to be expected.

“It’s worth just reminding your listeners, there’s a lag because obviously you’ve got to get consent letters out, they’ve got to come back and then the school, with the school-age immunisation clinicians, decide as to when they’ve got enough students [and] parents have consented, that they can actually vaccinate,” he told the radio station.

Rollout complications 

The Independent said “logistical complications in storing, preparing and administering vaccine doses” within schools are thought to be “partly responsible” for hindering the progress of the rollout, with some schools reporting that they “have not even begun their rollouts, or been given a starting date by their local NHS immunisation team”.

Virgin Care, a private provider responsible for running immunisation programmes in hundreds of schools across southwest England, has experienced “difficulties”, while in the Bath and northeast Somerset area, “the scale of work” involved in vaccinating schoolchildren has “strained some teams” more experienced in “administering the flu nasal spray vaccine”, reported the paper. 

England falling behind Scotland

England’s figures do not compare favourably with Scotland, the Independent continued. North of the border 30% of children aged 12 to 15 have been jabbed, in part because young people in Scotland are able to “get jabbed both in and outside of school”. In England and Northern Ireland, however, the vaccination programme for the age group is now based mostly in schools. 

Mina Fazel, an associate professor in child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Oxford, told the paper it “makes sense” to allow schoolchildren in England to be vaccinated outside of school.

“If a child is initially hesitant and doesn’t come forward for an appointment, but then changes their mind two weeks later, they should be able to go and get their vaccine elsewhere,” she said.

“Maybe they’d be more comfortable being vaccinated outside of school in the first place. It makes sense to broaden out the options and offer the vaccine elsewhere.”

The slow pace of the rollout could leave the country “vulnerable to a new spike” in coronavirus cases, said The Telegraph. The paper suggested the delay in vaccinating children was starting to be “reflected in the national coronavirus infection figures”.

One in every 15 secondary school children in England had Covid last week, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics.

And this “high number of cases” among school-aged children “may be spilling into their parents’ age groups”, said the paper, “with case rates for 35 to 49-year-olds also up over recent weeks”.

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