Delivering a school-based immunisation programme and maintaining uptake in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic
While school-based immunisation programmes generally show good uptake rates, the current COVID-19 pandemic has an impact on their delivery. Neil Henty looks at some of the new challenges faced by health professionals delivering these programmes and how some teams have adapted to overcome them.
With school closures earlier in the year amid a national lockdown and NHS resources stretched to breaking point there must have been some trepidation heading into the autumn immunisation season. At the time of writing, the Prime Minister announced an additional four-week lockdown as a reaction to rising COVID-19 infection rates and associated deaths. Schools are set to remain open and it must be hoped that the school-based immunisation programme can be completed successfully.
The autumn/winter months correspond with the typical ‘flu’ season which makes it even more important that the programme maintains good uptake rates. This year, in addition to school children aged 2–10-years-old, all children in year7 (the first year of secondary education) will be offered the flu vaccine. Other vaccines in the childhood immunisation schedule include: the HPV vaccine for 12–13-year-olds, the 3-in-1 teenage booster and MenACWY for 14-year-olds.
Clearly, there are many challenges ahead, but this year's programme has already faced setbacks. According to Kelly Riddles, immunisation staff nurse, Wakefield 0–19 Service at the Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust, the biggest challenge her team faced was in gaining parental consents to vaccinate. ‘The immunisation timetable in Wakefield usually starts with the first HPV vaccine for year8 in September and we then begin the flu campaign from October to December. We are not on e-consents yet and the paper consent forms usually go out to schools in June/July for the HPV and beginning of September for flu. Due to school closures during lockdown, we were unable to get the HPV consents out.’
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