'Logistical problems' blamed for low uptake of Covid jabs by Sunderland pupils
Concerns have been raised about the low uptake of Covid vaccinations by secondary school children which is being blamed on “logistical problems” with the roll-out programme rather than a lack of desire by pupils to get the jab.
The vaccination programme started nationally in the penultimate week of September 2021, but as of October 17, only 16.5% of the 12-to-15-year-olds in Sunderland have received their Covid jabs.
According to Cllr Linda Williams, who is chair of governors at Oxclose Community Academy, this is down to a “total underestimation of how secondary schools work”.
The Washington Central Ward councillor said: “I think the nursing team administering the vaccines underestimated the number of children in secondary schools and how long it takes to get hundreds of children through their vaccinations.
"We have 1,000 children at Oxclose and we were allocated one day to carry this out which simply wasn’t enough time. It’s not like the flu vaccine as with Covid vaccines the children need to wait for 15 minutes before they can leave and this will obviously slow the whole process down
“I think it comes down to a lack of understanding as to how a school operates.”
It is a situation which left many children who had signed consent forms unable to get their jabs.
Cllr Williams added: “These children will now have to wait for the service to come back in order to get their vaccinations.”
It is a sentiment shared by portfolio holder for Children’s Services, Cllr Louise Farthing.
Cllr Farthing said: “The vaccination programme has not gone as well as expected but from my understanding this is down to a lack of vaccines and not having enough time to get the children vaccinated when the teams have come into schools.
"It’s disappointing but it’s down to logistics rather than families being unwilling for children to get the vaccine.”
Cllr Williams also believes the “rushed” nature in which the programme was introduced is partially behind the lower than expected uptake.
She said: “This is a big decision for families – there was a short deadline for the consent forms and many were unprepared and had not yet made their minds up. Some parents simply have not had enough time to think about it.”
Uptake of the vaccine in sixth form and college age pupils is much higher with 67% of this demographic having received one dose of the jab and 22% having received two. Second doses are currently only offered to 16-and-17-year-olds who are within three months of their 18th birthday, or are clinically extremely vulnerable or live who someone who is at greater risk.
Cllr Farthing added: “I think this is a reasonable uptake, although obviously we would like it to be higher. Although this age group’s life is not at risk in the same way as older age groups.”
Sunderland City Council’s Executive Director for Public Health has highlighted the high prevalence of the disease in younger age groups and has urged families to take up the offer of the vaccine.
Mrs Taylor said: “I would encourage everyone who is eligible to take up the vaccine as it continues to offer the best form of protection against Covid. So far we have had a really good take up among 16 and 17-year-olds in Sunderland with 67% taking up their first dose of the vaccine.
"The schools vaccine programme has recently got underway and we would ask young people and their parents to look out for further information on when they can access their jab.
“Infection rates in the city are still high and are rising with around 140 new cases every day. While infections are across all age groups, many of these are in our younger population.
"So I would urge all young people who are eligible to be vaccinated, to take up the offer of the jab to protect themselves, their loved ones and everyone they come into contact with at school or college or in their community.”
Mrs Taylor has also urged everyone to carry on wearing face coverings in enclosed public areas and to test regularly using lateral flow tests – even without symptoms.
Leaders of the region’s Covid vaccine programme have also moved to reassure parents that all children who wish to receive their jabs will be able to do so.
A spokeswoman for the Covid-19 Vaccination programme for the North East and North Cumbria said it was positive to see families behind children getting the covid jabs.
She said: "It's encouraging to see the number of parents who are providing consent for their children to be vaccinated.
"Local school's immunisation services are working hard to provide vaccination clinics at schools across Sunderland, South Tyneside and Gateshead and we'd like to reassure parents that all eligible children who wish to have the vaccine will have the opportunity to do so in the coming weeks.”
Children are currently only able to be vaccinated in schools, but the North East’s vaccine chief, Professor Neil Watson, has hinted this could soon change to enable more children get their jabs.
Professor Watson said: “It’s not surprising that as teams move through the schools there are some schools and some year groups who need following up with.
"We have always been keen to offer the public choice on where they can get the vaccine and we are hoping that degree of flexibility will appear for children as well.”