UK paediatricians have expressed alarm about a “shambolic” vaccine rollout for children, saying doctors were being “left in the dark” about plans for the programme and unable to answer questions from patients.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said there were still no plans in place to vaccinate vulnerable 12- 15-year-olds, even though an announcement had been made extending the jab to healthy people over 16.
Dr Camilla Kingdon, RCPCH president, said: “The rollout of the vaccine programme for adults has been incredibly impressive but, for children and young people, it has been frankly shambolic. This is the second announcement around vaccinations for children or young people in the last three weeks but we still haven’t seen detailed plans for rollout of the first.”
Kingdon said parents and paediatricians had been “left completely in the dark about how and when children and young people will be invited for vaccination”. She said: “There has been no information to parents and none to young people themselves, and that creates confusion and, for some families, real worry.”
She said doctors urgently needed information to communicate to parents. “Our members are constantly being asked questions by young people or their parents for which they don’t have the answers because the systems aren’t in place and the detailed advice has not been provided,” she said. “In England, at least, the national booking system for Covid vaccinations is still not taking bookings for anyone under the age of 18, more than two weeks after the ministerial announcement.”
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which recommended on Wednesday that jabs be given to over-16s, has suggested that vaccinations for 12- to 15-year-olds will follow once more data is gathered. The change comes just two weeks after it said it would not be recommending jabs for healthy children, but that those with significant disabilities or who were living with vulnerable adults could be vaccinated.
In its changed advice on Wednesday, the JCVI said an expanded vaccine programme for children may cause disruption to schools, and that schools would need additional resources. It is not confirmed whether schools will be expected to host vaccinations, or if they will take place in other settings.
“Delivery of a Covid-19 vaccine programme for children and young people is likely to be disruptive to education in the short term, particularly if school premises are used for vaccination. Adverse reactions to vaccination (such as fevers) may also lead to time away from education for some individuals,” the JCVI advice says. “Considerable additional resource will be required to minimise the operational impacts of a Covid-19 vaccine programme on the wider health of children and young people.”
Liz Kendall, the shadow health minister, said a plan was urgently needed. “The lack of a plan, a booking system or information on how the vaccine rollout for children will work, more than two weeks after the first announcement on children’s vaccinations, is shambolic,” she said.
“Ministers are letting down parents, young people and teachers yet again. The plan to vaccinate children is well overdue and the booking system must be opened as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary disruption to the start of the school year. Ministers must get a grip.”
Speaking on Wednesday at a press conference to announce the jabs for 16-year-olds, the deputy chief medical officer for England, Jonathan Van-Tam, said the programme would not start immediately.
“Children are going to start going back to colleges and sixths forms from September, and in Scotland that will be slightly earlier, so there is no time to waste in getting on with this,” he said. “I want us to proceed as fast as is practically possible. That isn’t going to be tomorrow, I don’t think it is likely to be early next week … I would expect this programme will start in a very short number of weeks.”
The Department of Health has been approached for comment.