UK university Covid-19 jab scheme off to a slow start

Takeup of vaccines has been disproportionately low among young British people. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - A London university has set up a clinic for students to get vaccinated against Covid-19 ahead of the new term. But attendance is low as many are reluctant to get jabbed.

Takeup of vaccines has been disproportionately low among young British people and the capital lags behind the UK as a whole.

The University of East London has set up a mini-clinic to vaccinate students, but when AFP visited, it was largely empty, with many skipping appointments.

One of those coming to get jabbed, 28-year-old Jane-John Ngu Tazinya, said she was looking forward to a new term but did not get vaccinated earlier because she was "always at home".

"I didn't see the need, I didn't feel exposed," she said.

Now, she admitted she was "a bit worried that the numbers are going to go up", and would prefer for "most students to get vaccinated".

The drive to jab students has not been a huge success so far, acknowledged Ms Sally Cutler, who is in charge of the university's vaccination programme.

"We're getting some students, the numbers are not massive," she said.

"I think the young adults are really the difficult age group to try and catch," she added, pointing to the prevalence of anti-vaxxer claims that the vaccines are harmful.

"They hear a lot of misinformation on social media; they've obviously got a lot of concerns; they hear these stories about the impact on fertility, which is totally fictitious" she said.

The UK has had one of the highest virus death tolls, at more than 136,000, but has scored a success with a speedy and effective vaccine rollout.

More than 82 per cent of over-16s have had two doses, according to the latest government figures.

But data show that young people are most hesitant about getting jabbed.

In England, 66 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds have had at least one jab, while the figure is only 55 per cent in London.

'Need more information'

The Sun newspaper said on Saturday (Oct 2) that at least five England footballers were refusing to get vaccinations.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid called the report "disappointing".

"They are role models in society. People, especially young people, I think will look up to them and they should recognise that and the difference that can make in terms of encouraging others," he told Times Radio.

The government is concerned at such hesitancy among the young, given that the Delta variant is still causing high infection rates since coronavirus restrictions began being lifted in July.

It has roped in social media stars and rugby players, including England international Sam Underhill, to back the vaccination campaign and persuaded large companies to offer bonuses for those with proof of jabs.

For this year's Freshers' Week, when new students arrive at universities and throw themselves into socialising, NHS England has announced the opening of pop-up clinics and walk-in centres where students can get jabbed without any appointment.

The aim is to avoid a surge in cases as the new term begins.

"Starting university is one of the most significant moments in the lives of millions of people every year - and having your jab could be one of the most important things you do to ensure you get the best out of it," Mr Javid said when launching the scheme.

But the message was not getting through to students at the University of East London such as 26-year-old Maame Donkor and 27-year-old Yaa Kissiedu, who said they prefer to wait.

"We're still thinking about it, eventually we will (get jabbed)", said Ms Donkor.

"When the time is right, we'll go to the clinic. For now, we need more information," added Mr Kissiedu.

The students nevertheless say they are overjoyed to be back on campus after a year of online classes and that anti-virus measures make them feel safe.

"Everyone is socially distancing, there's hand sanitisers everywhere, we can spray the tables," said Mr Kissiedu.

The university is also handing out free rapid test kits, which are popular with those who do not want to get vaccinated.

"We've been ordering thousands more," said Ms Cutler.

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