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.
Doctors and school leaders have called for clarity on how the rollout will operate, as scientific advice to the government warned significant school resources may be required. The decision on Wednesday to announce that the rollout would be extended to all over 16s is understood to have caught some NHS leaders off-guard.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) 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, the 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.”
NHS sources said plans had been published on 22 July to vaccinate vulnerable 12 to 15-year-olds, but that it would take time to get the programme up and running.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), 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.
An NHS spokesperson said the guidance was being finalised and said it had begun to inform public health bodies about the rollout.
“Since the start of the NHS Covid vaccination programme, the biggest and most successful in health history, the NHS has followed JCVI guidance on delivering vaccinations to the population in England, responding swiftly and safely to any changes enabling those eligible to get their lifesaving jab as quickly as possible,” she said.
“The NHS has issued further guidance today to address and support all vaccination sites following yesterday’s JCVI announcement opening vaccinations up to those aged 16 and 17.”
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 has not been 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.”
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Any suggestion of using school and college premises for delivering vaccines will require detailed planning and clarity from government on how this might work in practice, accompanied by appropriate support and assurances about the extent of their involvement.”
Barton said there were ongoing concerns among school leaders about how to manage the return to the classroom and said they needed “a decisive commitment of financial and practical support from the government”.
Liz Kendall, the shadow health minister, said a plan for the rollout 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 Department of Health and Social Care declined to comment.