The government recently made the sites available to 12 to 15-year-olds because of the slow progression of the Covid vaccine rollout within schools.
More than 80,000 children from this age group have booked an appointment since last Friday, although some have been unable to access nearby centres, parents claim.
While more than 2,000 vaccine centres have been set up across England, many are not yet authorised to vaccinate children aged under 16. As a result, some families are turning to licensed sites that are up to 50 miles away, or being forced to wait for their child to be immunised via the school vaccine programme, which has been waylaid in parts of the country by a shortage of trained vaccinators and logistical complications.
Rachel, from Carlisle, took her son to a site in Newcastle, more than 50 miles away, to get jabbed due to the lack of local centres in her area.
“Now, I can afford to take my child across there, and have the means of transport, plus available time because it’s half term and I’m school staff,” she said. “There will be many that can’t, though, and my son’s school has not yet had the vaccine team in.”
She said she saw another pupil from her son’s school in Carlisle attending the same centre in Newcastle.
Another parent, from the Yorkshire Dales, said she had booked an appointment next week for her 12-year-old son at a site which is 40 miles away. “The problem is the centres are not open when the NHS website says they are,” she added.
Other families from Essex, Salisbury and Dorset have reported similar issues in not being able to use nearby centres to get their children vaccinated.
“Both my children are keen for the vaccine but there are no local clinics accepting children,” one parent from Poole said. “Online we’ve been offered our closest as the Isle of Wight. That’s a 120-mile round trip and a return ferry journey.”
As of 25 October, 21.3 per cent of children aged 12-15 in England had received the Covid vaccine. The rollout is continuing to lag behind the Scottish programme, which has vaccinated 53. 1 per cent of this age group.
Azeem Majeed, a professor of primary care and public health at Imperial College England, said the inability of families to access local vaccine centres “illustrates that the government often makes announcements without giving the NHS time to plan”.
“In this case, they have opened up Covid-19 vaccine centres to children – but as these centres were previously giving vaccines to people over 16, they may not have vaccinators on site who are authorised to vaccinate children.
“Given enough time, this problem could have been resolved to ensure vaccine clinics did have suitable vaccinators.”
He said England’s general vaccine programme had slowed down “considerably” in recent months and was working “much better earlier in the year when GP-led sites were providing the majority of vaccinations”.
Prof Majeed added: “The government and NHS England need to put aside the adversarial approach they have adopted with GPs and work with them to ensure we have an efficient Covid-19 vaccination programme.”
The NHS has said that the school vaccination programme will remain the key route for getting young children jabbed against Covid, rather than walk-in centres.
Millions of parents are receiving letters this week inviting their children to get a vaccine through the national booking service.
A spokesperson for the NHS said: “The rollout of the vaccine in schools has seen around a half million vaccinated already and just days into the wider rollout to local vaccination centres for this cohort thousands of parents are coming forward every day to get their child booked in for the lifesaving vaccine.
“As the rollout expands more sites will come online to vaccinate this cohort and the October half-term is a convenient time for parents to book to get their children vaccinated, and beyond half term local services will be continuing to make appointments available for parents to take their children to be vaccinated outside of school hours.”