Let retired doctors vaccinate schoolchildren against Covid, ministers urged

·3 min read
Pupils prepare to have Covid and flu vaccinations at a school in Newcastle last month - Ian Forsyth/Getty Images Europe
Pupils prepare to have Covid and flu vaccinations at a school in Newcastle last month - Ian Forsyth/Getty Images Europe

Retired medics should be drafted in to vaccinate pupils, ministers have been told as the target for vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds looks set to be missed.

Despite the Government setting a target of vaccinating the majority of eligible pupils against Covid by half-term week, just 15 per cent in the cohort have received a jab, compared with more than 40 per cent in Scotland.

On Wednesday night, teaching unions blamed the delays on administrative errors and a shortage of school nurses. They said errors had resulted in immunisation teams turning up with fewer jabs than required or cancelling appointments at short notice.

Echoing concerns of school leaders, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, urged ministers to consider recruiting retired clinicians to help plug the gaps in the school vaccine programme.

"Retired clinicians were brought back onto the register and allowed to vaccinate in the first rollout, but they don't appear to be mobilised for schools," he said. "There is a lack of grip here, and ministers need to stop vacillating and start vaccinating."

While Scotland has allowed teenagers to attend community drop-in sites and mass vaccination centres, in England jabs are only available in schools. The scheme in England is run by the School Age Immunisation Service, which also administers vaccines including HPV and flu jabs.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was aware of examples of immunisation teams arriving at schools with the wrong number of jabs or cancelling slots at the last minute without explanation.

Another teaching union source said they also knew of multiple examples of headteachers having been prepared for vaccination teams to arrive to provide jabs for pupils only for the appointments to be cancelled.

"We were told the programme would be rolled out by the end of half-term, but that most definitely isn't happening," Mr Barton told The Telegraph.

"You've had teams cancelling the night before, sending an email to the school saying they aren't coming in tomorrow despite all the consent forms being collected, meaning parents are furious because they have to fill out new consent forms.

"Then you have teams not realising the size of a school, thinking they were going to vaccinate 300 children and then finding there were 600 to be done. So they have ended up early, leaving disgruntled youngsters feeling let down."

Amid mounting concern over the speed of the rollout, Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, has confirmed 12 to 15-year-olds will be able to book their jabs at national vaccination centres from half-term.

But delays to the rollout mean the Government is likely to miss its target, which union leaders warned would have a knock-on effect in trying to suppress community spread.

"Secondary school children are now the most infected age group and that level of infection is now driving further infection in the adult community," said Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union. "We're now finding that it is becoming really difficult for school leaders because so many staff are off with Covid."

On Wednesday, it emerged that thousands of students will be forced to wear face masks in school again after the director of public health in Suffolk announced that they should be reinstated.

"We have seen the number of pupils with Covid-19 increase so we are putting in place these additional measures immediately to help break the chain of transmission," said Stuart Keeble.

Students in all 300 primary, secondary and colleges in the county must wear face coverings in communal areas outside the classroom. Entry to schools will be restricted to essential visitors only and parents collecting children will also be required to wear face masks.