School children in England could soon be able to get a Covid-19 vaccine at a walk-in centre under new plans to speed up the jab rollout for under 16s.
Take-up of first vaccine doses has been low with fewer than 10% of young teenagers jabbed in just over a third of local areas in England.
Why is uptake low?
First doses started to be rolled out to 3.2 million 12 to 15-year-olds across the country more than a month after the UK’s chief medical officers recommended extending the vaccine programme to nearly all of those in secondary school.
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.
While uptake has been low across England, the picture is very different in Scotland, where more than half of children in local areas have now had a vaccine dose.
The original plan was for all the vaccines to be administered in schools, in the same way as the annual flu jab, with the aim of offering a dose to all those eligible by half-term.
However, headteachers’ unions are now 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.
Unions have expressed concerns that 12- to 15-year-olds are missing out on getting vaccinated in school due to a high level of coronavirus cases amongst pupils, as well as logistical problems with vaccination teams not having enough staff to deal with all the students needing jabs.
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.”
Has the government responded?
At the moment, jabs in England are being carried out in schools by nurses and immunisation teams, whereas in Scotland, youngsters can attend drop-in vaccination centres at GP clinics, pharmacies and community centres to get their jab.
Reports now suggest children under 16 in England could soon be offered jabs at walk-in centres for the first time due to delays with the vaccine rollout.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the government is 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”.
He explained: “In the first instance we are allowing for the jabs to take place through the school immunisation services, this is the long-standing approach that has been used for flu and HPV jabs.
“We are working very closely with schools, we are going to keep the programme for 12 to 15-year-olds under review.”
The spokesman added that a number of factors could be behind the low jab uptake among under 16s in England, including the “abhorrent” abuse and misinformation from protesters at school gates.
He said: “It is completely unacceptable for anyone to direct abuse or misinformation towards parents, teachers or indeed children.”
This article originally appeared on our sister site, NationalWorld.