NHS England chief Amanda Pritchard says the national booking service will be open to 12 to 15-year-olds amid delays to the schools rollout
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Teenagers will be able to book a Covid jab at walk-in vaccination centres as the Government’s schools rollout stalls.
NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said that, to “make the most of half-term”, the national booking service will be open for 12 to 15-year-olds to get jabs.
Until now, younger teenagers have only been able to get vaccinated in schools but staffing and logistical problems among immunisation teams are said to have hit the rollout.
Data has shown that take-up of a first dose for the age group was below 10% in around a third of the country for. In some areas it was as low as 5%.
It comes amid concern over the spiralling case rate, with the daily number hitting almost 50,000, and as the proportion of children out of school for Covid-related reasons in England rose over the past fortnight.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid echoed the NHS chief’s call in the Commons, saying: “To make the most of half term next week, we will now be opening up the national booking service to all 12 to 15 year olds to have their Covid vaccinations in existing vaccination centres, which will offer families more flexibility.”
Ms Pritchard told the Health and Social Care Committee on Thursday people were delaying coming forward when they are invited for jabs.
She said NHS England is now sending out 1.8 million letters every week informing people they are eligible for booster shots because their second dose was six months ago.
“We’re at the point in the booster program where a number of people were becoming eligible every week is quite high because it matches to what was happening six months ago,” she said.
“Literally this week we’ll be sending out 1.8 million additional letters, and that’s the sort of volume per week that we’re now, we’re now sending out.
“There is no delay in sending invitations, it is literally within days of people becoming eligible, they will get their invitations.
“What we are seeing, and this is absolutely the crux, is that whilst it’s great that people are coming forward for their boosters, they are not coming forward as quickly when they receive their invitation as we certainly saw for the first jabs.”
The Department for Education estimates 2.6% of all pupils – around 209,000 children – did not attend class on Thursday last week, up from 2.5% (approximately 204,000 children) on September 30.
Among pupils absent for Covid-19 reasons, the main reason for absence was a confirmed case of coronavirus, with around 111,000 pupils off for this reason, compared to approximately 102,000 a fortnight before.
Overall, some 90% of students were in class on October 14, which is up slightly on 89.5% on September 30.
Meanwhile, Professor Neil Ferguson sounded the alarm over waning immunity.
He said Covid booster jabs were the solution, adding: “Absolutely, and there’s data coming through now, which is not completely clear cut, but good data coming through from Israel, which shows that, if you’ve had the third booster dose of the vaccine, then you get very high loads, better than even you had after the second dose.
“And so I do think it’s critical we accelerate the booster programme.
“The other thing is infection rates are highest in teenagers at the moment and most other European countries are ahead of us in vaccinating teenagers and giving them two doses, not just one dose.
“Two doses really are needed to block infection and prevent transmission, so I think that’s the other problem, keep pushing on, getting coverage rates up higher in the teenagers who are driving a lot of this infection.”
The Sage member said the doubling time for hospital admissions is currently about five weeks, “so I think we need (to be) on the case, and we do need to prioritise the (booster) vaccination programme but we’re not in the same position as last year.”
He added: “I don’t think it’s a reason to panic right now but I would certainly like to see vaccination booster doses accelerated, vaccination for teenagers accelerated.”