Walk-in vaccine clinics for schoolchildren will be unveiled within weeks in an effort to speed up the jabs rollout.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Ministers are planning to launch the scheme for 12-to- 15-year-olds shortly.
It comes amid concern that the Government has been far too slow in rolling out the vaccination programme in schools.
Sources also claim the new clinics are an attempt to keep anti-vaxxers away from the school gates.
Last night, there were fresh calls to speed up the vaccination of teenagers after an analysis of official figures by The Mail on Sunday found almost half of new Covid cases in England are now in the under-20s.
When schools went back early last month, 33 per cent of new cases were in that age group.
But by the second week of this month, the proportion had grown to 46 per cent. Teenagers now make up the lion’s share of infections in the under-20s.
Walk-in vaccine clinics for schoolchildren will be unveiled within weeks in an effort to speed up the jabs rollout (stock image)
Because cases have been rising, in absolute terms the number of new infections in under-20s is not far off having doubled since early September, rising from about 9,000 to almost 15,500 a day.
Hospital consultant Dr David Strain, who led a recent Exeter University study looking at how jabbing teenagers could help protect others, said the increase was ‘really quite scary’ and showed the teen vaccination campaign needed to be ramped up rapidly.
If it was not, he warned, older relatives of infected children would die needlessly of Covid. Just 15 per cent of 12-to-15-year-olds in England are now vaccinated, up from 11.5 per cent a week ago.
Dr Strain said teenagers acted as a ‘viral reservoir’ – that while they rarely became seriously ill with Covid, they inevitably spread it to older family members.
He added: ‘In our study, we anticipated six weeks or so of infections rising in children and adolescents after they started mixing. Then there would be an uptick of cases in over-65s.
‘If you look at the past couple of weeks’ worth of data, that’s what’s starting to happen. Our next concern is that this [spread to older age groups] is going to cause hospitalisations to rise.’
Although 94 per cent of over-50s are double-jabbed, Dr Strain said this left significant numbers unprotected, while there were ‘hints of waning immunity’ in the already vaccinated – hence the need for the booster campaign.
He said nobody wanted to see children grow up with the guilt of passing Covid on to a family member who got seriously ill.
‘But children at that age are smart enough to know they brought the virus home from school, and then parents or grandparents got sick,’ he added.
According to data released yesterday, more than 3.3 million booster jabs have been administered in England. Across the UK, 49.4 million people have had their first Covid jab – the equivalent of 85.9 per cent of the over-12s. More than 45.3 million have had two doses.
Some 43,423 daily cases of Covid were recorded yesterday, up by 12.8 per cent over seven days, and there were 148 deaths within 28 days of a positive test – a 5.4 per cent rise in a week.
Care home providers however have raised concerns that the rollout of booster jabs to staff has been too slow. One provider said employees who happily took the first two jabs are refusing the top-up one.
They said one reason is because staff ‘don’t want to have to do three to four jabs a year’ but added that the nature of the rollout is also not driving demand.
‘Care homes are not as involved in encouraging staff because it is not compulsory,’ they said. ‘They are just sending the link [to staff] to sign up.’
The Department of Health last night declined to release figures on how many care home staff had taken up the booster jab.
Three reasons not to panic over Britain’s Covid infection rate: STEPHEN ADAMS explores the jab programme, protective antibodies and changing demographics
Analysis by Stephen Adams, Medical Editor for the Mail on Sunday
New daily Covid cases are running at double the rate they were at this time last year. The number of people hospitalised with the virus each day has, on average, been higher so far this autumn than last.
And rates of new Covid cases – and deaths – are much higher here on a per capita basis than they are in Germany and France.
But while there have been calls from some quarters for tighter curbs to stop Covid’s spread, there’s no widespread clamour for them.
In fact, Ministers are quietly confident that this winter will be nothing like as bad as last, despite persistently high infection rates.
There are three reasons for this. First is the hugely successful vaccination programme.
This time last year, only a few thousand people in this country had received a Covid jab – those inoculated as part of a clinical trial.
So there was virtually no vaccine-induced immunity. Indeed, last October no one knew whether the vaccines – produced at record-breaking speed in the UK, Germany and the US – would work.
It was nearly Christmas before the NHS Covid vaccination campaign began, with grandmother Margaret Keenan, then 90, getting the first jab on December 8.
Now, among people eligible for vaccination – aged 12 and over – 85.9 per cent have received a single dose and 78.8 per cent two doses.
Among the over-50s, who have accounted for 49 in every 50 Covid-related deaths, rates are even higher, at 96 per cent for single dose and 94 per cent for two doses.
This has ‘weakened the link’, to paraphrase Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, between Covid infections, serious disease and death. In fact, of the 51,281 Covid-related deaths in England in the first six months of this year, 98.8 per cent were people not double-vaccinated, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The second reason why high infection rates are no reason to panic – one closely related to vaccination – is that many more people now have protective antibodies.
Last October, only 4.4 per cent of England’s population had Covid antibodies, according to a study led by Imperial College London. By this August, that had soared to 93.6 per cent of adults, the ONS-led Covid-19 Infection Survey showed.
That rise was due mainly to vaccination, but also to rising naturally acquired infection. People with Covid antibodies are far less likely to become infected. And if they do, they are far less likely to suffer serious Covid illness.
Thirdly, the demographics of infection have changed radically.
Last autumn, Covid infections were spread relatively evenly among different age groups. Now, infections are concentrated in children, teens and young adults: so far this October, almost half of new infections have been in under-20s.
The brutal truth is that advancing age is by far the biggest risk of serious Covid illness and death.
This is persistently pointed out by Sir David Spiegelhalter, a statistics guru at Cambridge University. Last year, he calculated the risk of death among unvaccinated people who catch Covid ‘doubles for each six years older, all the way from childhood to old age’.
Age ‘overwhelms’ all other factors – such as sex, ethnicity or even health conditions – he said.
But because most now getting Covid are young – four in five cases this autumn have been in under-50s – we can be confident that the overall burden of serious disease will be far, far lower than last winter.
The pandemic, however, appears to be running hotter in Britain than in France, Germany, and Italy. Partly this is a result of more intensive testing in the UK: Germany, for instance, recently dropped free testing for most people.
But it is also hotter in real terms – with about 100 Covid-related fatalities a day in the UK, our death rate is more than double that in those three countries.
Yet they impose draconian rules governing everyday life, such as the widespread use of Covid passes, to which we are not subject. Would Britons now welcome that?