The country’s top family doctor today urged families to get their children protected against coronavirus, as the NHS vaccination programme makes hundreds of thousands of appointments available.
Dr Nikki Kanani said around half a million vaccination appointments for 12 to 15-year-olds are up for grabs across the country during January.
Families can book in at up to 300 centres through the online booking system.
The slots are in addition to those available at around 500 walk-in sites, including shopping centres, libraries and football stadiums, and the schools vaccination programme.
As pupils return from the Christmas break, hundreds of schools will be visited over the next fortnight as part of the NHS COVID Vaccination Programme, the biggest and fastest in health service history.
Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and deputy lead for the NHS vaccination programme, said: “I know how much disruption COVID has caused for so many families over the past two years, affecting young people’s lives and education.
“Getting vaccinated protects them, their family and their friends, letting them stay at school and continue socialising.
“The vaccine is safe and effective – my 13-year-old son had his first vaccination when I had my booster at our local pharmacy and it gave us both reassurance that he was protected as well, and he has recently topped up his protection with a second dose.
“Young people can get their life-saving protection at a walk-in site or wait to get vaccinated at school, but the best way to make sure it happens quickly and conveniently is to book online now”.
More than 1.4 million young people aged 12 to 15 have already had their first dose since the vaccine was rolled out to this age group in September, with thousands still getting jabbed each day.
However, there are still over one million young people who are yet to get their first dose of protection.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Keeping children in school is so important for their education, health and wellbeing.
“Vaccines will protect young people from Omicron, help to keep schools open and protect their friends and families.
“Many young people can get their first or second dose at school, at walk-in sites or parents can book one of the half a million vaccination appointments up for grabs across the country this month”.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “It is now easier than ever to make sure your child has their vaccination, thanks to this term’s in-school vaccination offer alongside increased opportunities for young people to get their jabs out of school.
“I am encouraging every parent and carer to make sure their child gets the vaccine through whichever is the best route for them, as it is the best way to protect them and their education.
“Whether it’s a first, second or third dose, it is never too late to take up the offer, and every new jab builds up the country’s defences against the virus disrupting the things we hold most dear. That includes our children being in classrooms with their friends and teachers where they belong”.
Mia Ioannides, aged 14, was nervous ahead of her first dose in October but now encourages her friends to come forward for the vaccine too. Proud and relieved she has had the first dose of protection, she has already booked in to get her second dose in a couple of weeks.
Mia said: “I just wanted to get the vaccine so I could protect my family and friends, and I think it is a really good thing to do and it can help with the pandemic.
“I was a bit anxious – not because of the vaccine itself but because of the needle – but it wasn’t that bad in the end! They talked me through exactly what they were going to do and people were very nice and reassured me. It was over pretty quickly and I didn’t really feel it, I don’t feel as scared for my second one now”.
Mia’s mum, Georgina, said those at the London vaccination centre they went to were ‘brilliant’, recognising Mia was anxious and making sure she knew what was happening and did not feel crowded.
She said: “As a family we all wanted to make sure we were as protected as we could be – we are all pretty healthy, but we have some vulnerable family members, and for the greater good we are doing our bit in terms of the virus.
“We also have a 17-year-old daughter who is vaccinated, and we did our research and looked at what information there was about it and felt confident getting vaccinated was the right thing to do”.
All children aged 12 to 15 are also eligible for a second dose of vaccine if it has been more than 12 weeks since their first jab, and more than 50,000 will be invited for their second dose as they become eligible this week.
In total, more than 5,500 schools have been visited since the rollout began in September.
Outside of school, parents and families can book their children in for their first and second doses at a vaccine centre via the national booking service, call 119, or head to the grab-a-jab walk in finder for their nearest walk in vaccination centre. Children cannot be vaccinated within three months of having COVID-19.
Following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation on 22nd December, the NHS will also shortly be contacting those aged 12 to 15 in a clinical risk group or who live with someone who is immunosuppressed to invite them for their booster, which they can have three months after their second dose.
In line with national guidance, consent letters are sent out to parents and guardians prior to the school clinics with information on the COVID-19 vaccination.
Parents and guardians are asked to attend vaccination sites with their children if they are getting jabbed outside of school, and consent will be sought on the day.
Parents and young people are being asked to read the patient information in advance of arriving for their appointment.
More than 113 million vaccinations, including more than 29 million boosters, have been delivered since the NHS in England made history when Margaret Keenan received the first jab outside of a clinical trial, in Coventry in December 2020.
Anyone yet to have a first, second or third dose can book in online through the National Booking Service if it has been three months since your last dose and, if relevant, 28 days since testing positive for COVID if you are aged 18 and over.
NHS staff continued to deliver ‘jingle jabs’ over the festive period with vaccinations taking place over Christmas and the New Year at soup kitchens, stadiums, racecourses, and even curry houses and Christmas markets.