We are begging the UK Government to demonstrate humanity, decency, and a modicum of intelligence in giving all children access to vaccination.
First published: February 2022.
Despite the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) approving vaccination for children at additional risk on 22 December 2021, we and other support communities have members whose children aged 5-11 are eligible but have been turned away when they have tried to book.
The NHS in all UK nations has now heralded the rollout of vaccinations to the currently eligible group this week, and we hope this means the promises made over a month ago are at last delivered upon.
But confidence that this will come to pass appears low among parents who have been forced to expend enormous energy when attempting to access their child’s vaccine. This despondency is compounded by the knowledge that children in the eligible group – whose two doses are to be given 28 days apart – could have been fully vaccinated by now if the rollout had been actioned as soon as the JCVI decision was announced.
Parents have been contacting their GP, their Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), and whomever else they can think of, and in most cases have been furnished with very few clear answers. One piece of information gleaned is that paediatric doses of the vaccine (smaller than that given to adults) simply weren’t available.
We understand that some children were vaccinated by clinicians willing to do so “off-license” by splitting adult doses of the vaccine, but that few were willing to take on such responsibility without clear clinical guidelines from above. In the interim, infections in school-aged children have continued to rise, and many of the families we support have become infected after being forced into schools heaving with COVID.
Most of the answers parents have managed to obtain to date have brought disappointment, which the contents of our messaging inboxes pays testament to. One message reads; “NHS England have been told they can split adult doses for the vulnerable kids. It’s off-license, that’s the issue. GPs aren’t willing, NHS England hasn’t provided the detailed guidance on how to do that.”
Another parent told us: “According to the Head of Complaints for our CCG they’ve had less than 5,000 doses arrive in the UK, none of which have found their way to my area.” At this time the parent was told that there was no estimated date and that their child might receive their vaccination as late as the end of February. The family hope that the NHS rollout announcement will mean they will not have to wait this long, but have yet to be contacted.
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The stress felt by families who are placed in this position is palpable. One parent described the experience of being pushed from pillar to post in the quest to obtain vaccination for their eligible children – one of whom is Clinically Extremely Vulnerable – as being overwhelmingly frustrating.
“The overriding issue is that no one seems to KNOW. No one has a clear answer, or process or plan... I’ve been fed s**t from everyone I’ve spoken to on this subject so don’t believe anything I’m told by anyone currently. They will literally say anything to get you to eff off and take the issue somewhere else.
“Over the last 3 weeks, I have spoken to 119, NHS England, 3 CCGs, my GP, the local Vax Centre and our Director for Public Health. And I haven’t been told the same thing twice. NHS England offered to give me the telephone number for the JCVI; when I say they will say anything to get you off the phone, I’m not joking.
“The only thing I’ve heard consistently is, “it’s not me/us.” Someone called me yesterday, said they’re vaccinating here from Tuesday... Got my hopes up and everything. Then he called me back half an hour later and said, “Sorry, we have no vaccines, it definitely won’t be Tuesday. No idea when they’re arriving, I’ll call you when we hear.”
Children aged 5 to 11 who are eligible for vaccination in the UK are a sub-set of the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable children, who are defined by the JCVI as being the most at risk – there are many CEV and otherwise Clinically Vulnerable children who are not included in the recommendation, and are expected to run the gauntlet of infection in schools on a daily basis, without the benefit of vaccine protection or the opportunity to shield with home learning support.
A plus point within the recommendations, however, is the inclusion of children whose sibling does qualify as a result of their medical status. Also included are children who live with someone who is immunosuppressed, and thereby both vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19 and unable to gain protection directly from vaccination. We consider this as a grudging acceptance of our long-standing assertion that families in this position need additional protection, not least because the death of a parent or sibling has a devastating impact on any child, especially if they brought home the cause of their loved ones death.
However, recognition of the risk that Covid poses to families whose child now qualifies for vaccination does not appear to have reached the Department for Education – even if it is the child themselves who is vulnerable. Following the Secretary of State for Education declaring an attendance crackdown, parents in our group have begun to report that schools that were previously supportive and authorising absence until vaccination was available for the child are now withdrawing that support, with immediate effect.
One parent, whose child clinicians have advised should remain at home if cases are high, writes:
“... he is not vulnerable enough to stay off school, (because the government says so) but is vulnerable enough to be on vaccination list for 5-11-year-olds who are at higher risk due to having had an organ transplant. So which is it?
“Seems school are unwilling to use their discretion and we have reached a stalemate with neither side willing to budge. What should our next move be? If any, because we are absolutely sick of repeating ourselves.”
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These families have already had to beg the JCVI to deem their plight sufficient to allow them the protection afforded to all adults. The failed delivery of vaccinations for this eligible group to date means they have once again been disadvantaged; ignored, shunned and exposed to unacceptable levels of risk, while the JCVI’s very narrow definition of eligibility means that the majority of families – including many who are vulnerable – have no hope of an end to this nightmare.
As a support team, we are doing all we can to help these families, but we know it isn’t remotely enough. We despair as this tragic failure of public health happens before us, and to some of us personally. Meanwhile, the Government hides behind an illusion that the issue has been resolved; ministers crow daily that vulnerable 5-11s are vaccinated, yet we know that very few families are eligible, and the lions share of those who are have struggled immensely to access their child’s vaccination.
We wonder whether each child death we see reported could have been prevented – whether vaccination would have protected that child, and whether they had been technically eligible for a vaccination which the family had struggled to access, like so many other families we know.
We don’t have much time to dwell on this thought – we are far too busy providing a safe and supportive space in our Facebook group, which helps parents to cope in the face of mass infection of children and young people, and an increasingly unyielding school attendance policy, which has never taken the physical safety of parents into consideration.
We fear for the safety of our vulnerable members, our teammates, our friends, and – in some cases – ourselves and our loved ones. We are begging the UK Government to demonstrate humanity, decency, and a modicum of intelligence in following most other countries in giving all children access to vaccination and ensuring that there is absolutely no further delay in providing vital protection to those children in greatest need.
— AUTHORS —
▫ Parents United, grassroots, parent-led campaign for a sensible, safe, and sustainable approach to UK Schools.
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- Text: This piece by Parents United UK’s Co-Founder Gemma Sewell was first published in PMP Magazine on 3 February 2022. It has been adapted from a thread on the group’s Twitter feed. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
- Cover: Adobe Stock/fizkes.