Last week, NHS England medical director of primary care Dr Nikki Kanani revealed that two thirds of 18- to 24-year-olds had received their first dose - and invited those yet to be vaccinated to come forward.
Despite a strong start among this group, analysis of official data by GPonline shows that while CCGs delivered a first dose to an average of 8.4% of their 18- to 24-year-olds in the week to 4 July, in the week to 25 July they delivered jabs to less than 2% of people in this age group on average. This slow-down has come despite around one in three people aged 18-24 nationally still being completely unvaccinated.
GPs in low uptake areas, such as north-west England and the Midlands, have confirmed that take up of the jab among young adults is ‘going up exceptionally slowly’ despite their best efforts to make vaccines more accessible.
Those leading vaccination clinics have suggested that the times and locations available to young adults are not suitable and have called on health leaders to give them greater flexibility to vaccinate patients in different ways.
Warnings around slow uptake among young adults come as deputy CMO Professor Jonathan Van Tam said last week that the prospect of another lockdown would be ‘much lower’ if higher numbers of the UK population get fully vaccinated.
By 27 June, just 10 days after COVID-19 vaccines were opened up to all adults in England, CCGs had delivered a first dose to half of their 18- to 24-year-olds on average, while areas with the fastest uptake such as Northumberland and North Cumbria managing to inoculate close to two thirds of this age group with a first jab by that stage.
Over 20% of CCGs had managed to jab 75% or more of their 18- to 24-year-olds by 25 July, but CCGs in Birmingham and Solihull and Liverpool were yet to jab half.
As of 25 July, Liverpool CCG had managed to jab just 48% of its 18- to 24-year-olds with a first dose, with the LMC medical secretary for the area Dr Rob Barnett telling GPonline uptake had slowed considerably. He said: ‘In terms of people coming forward for a vaccination, the numbers for first jabs are going up exceptionally slowly.
‘When one looks at where the vaccines are being taken up, there is quite a difference between the least deprived wards and the most deprived wards. So across a few miles there’s a really steep gradient and it is really worrying.
‘Part of it is probably that we’ve probably not been providing vaccinations at times or locations that suit this age group, whereas with the older age group they were happy to be told where to be vaccinated.’
Dr Barnett said a mobile vaccine bus had been travelling round various areas of the city offering vaccines, while a clinic had also been opened in the centre in a bid to boost uptake among young adults.
‘We need the flexibility and the freedom to vaccinate people in a way we see fit. I understand there was a command and control situation at the beginning, but now we need to ensure there isn’t too much red tape.’
Midlands GP Dr Shan Hussain said it was important for the NHS to understand why young people and the general population were turning down jabs to increase uptake rates in certain areas. He said: ‘Low uptake is a concern and we have to get the message out there that they are safe and largely effective.
‘But we’ve got to understand why people are turning them down and address them. There are always going to be a few people, no matter what you say, who will not have it, and there’s not much you can do in those situations.
‘We must do what we can to address people’s concerns. I think reaching out to the people who have popularity among younger people would be great, people who they admire and respect. If we can get them to publicly endorse vaccines it could make a difference.’
Dr Hussain added that cutting bureaucratic activities and eliminating obstacles to care, such as CQC inspections and appraisals, would also help GPs to focus more on the vaccine campaign.
Festivals, beachfronts and football stadiums have also been transformed into vaccination centres in recent days as NHS staff and volunteers worked in makeshift settings to make it easier for patients to access jabs.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that coronavirus is currently over five times more prevalent in those aged 16 to 24 than among people aged 50 to 69. In the week ending 17 July, 3.5% of 16- to 24-year-olds tested positive for coronavirus as well as 1.6% of 25- to 34-year-olds.