Delays to the vaccination rollout mean some 12- to 15-year-olds may not get their Covid jab until February next year – 15 weeks after the government’s original target for offering the jab to all eligible teenagers, according to Labour.
Officials originally set October half-term as the target to invite those in the age group to receive the vaccine in schools after criticism that England was slow to approve it for children compared to other countries.
New analysis by Labour suggests however that if the vaccination of the 2.8m eligible 12- to 15-year-olds continues at the current rate, it could take until 7 February for some teenagers to be jabbed – a five-month wait for some.
Vaccination began in schools in September, but with high infection numbers and low vaccination rates, a growing number of walk-in vaccine sites have since been made available to speed up the process.
According to the new analysis, over a four-week period up to 15 November, an average of just over 147,000 pupils got the jab each week. Latest reported figures show that almost 60% of children are still unvaccinated, while 42.1% – almost 1,127,000 – have been vaccinated.
Labour has called on the government to make better use of community pharmacies and pop-up clinics, as well as bring back volunteers and retired clinicians, to expand capacity and speed up vaccination of 12- to 15-year-olds.
The shadow education secretary, Kate Green, 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.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “We don’t know yet what the final take up of the vaccine will be for teens – it may never be as high as in the general population. So it is important that other measures are also pursued to control Covid in schools, including help to improve key mitigations such as better ventilation, reconsidering the current guidance on close contact isolation, and an effective track and trace system to ensure cases are identified early.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Our vaccination programme continues to be a phenomenal success and children can get vaccinated at school or use the national booking ystem – 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 15m doses administered so far across the UK.”