Covid jab uptake slows among young people in England, PHE says

Scientists say efforts to increase vaccinations by tactics seen as coercive are less useful than good communication via role models

Clearer information and messages from role models are needed to boost Covid vaccination uptake among young people, experts have said, as figures showed that fewer than 60% of 18- to 25-year-olds had received their first jab in England.

Adults over the age of 18 have been eligible for vaccination against Covid-19 in England since 18 June. But according to the latest data from Public Health England (PHE), uptake of the vaccine in younger groups already appears to be levelling off.

Case rates are highest in people in their 20s. Data from PHE on Thursday showed the age group had a seven-day infection rate of 1,154.7 per 100,000 people – or 1 in 100.

Vaccination rates are now rising only very slowly in each age group. More than 95% of people in England over the age of 80 have had their first dose, compared with 80.9% of people aged 45 to under 50, 62.8% of those aged 30 to under 35, and 58.4% of those aged 18 to under 25 years old.

Concern over the slowing of vaccine uptake among younger people prompted Boris Johnsonto announce on Monday that from September only those who had had two doses of a coronavirus vaccine would be allowed entry to crowded venues such as nightclubs – although some have suggested this could be simply sabre-rattling.

Experts say that such a tactic could hinder rather than help with vaccine uptake.

Prof John Drury, of the University of Sussex, a participant in Spi-B, the Sage subcommittee advising on behavioural science, said: “Incentivisation will work for some but will backfire with those who are most hesitant and suspicious, who will perceive it as coercion.”

Beate Kampmann, a professor of paediatric infection and immunity, and the director of the vaccine centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, agreed and said that a requirement for vaccine passports at nightclubs would do little to increase vaccine confidence; there needed to be a broad package of measures to boost uptake, she said.

“People are more hesitant if they feel the disease to be prevented does not concern them. So to put out the data specifically [on] how young people’s health is affected by the pandemic in terms of cases, admissions, serious consequences, deaths, long Covid but also the benefit to cutting down transmission chains, might go some way to showing that this virus does not stop at age and that it’s everyone’s business to limit the damage,” said Kampmann.

She added: “We need some relevant role models to speak up in favour of the vaccines and tell their stories, rather than a group of middle-aged scientists. Learning from your peers might work much better, and we have successfully used this approach in the local communities.”

Drury said that one problem was the recent messaging about “freedoms”, which suggested the situation was now safe and that no further action was required. “The signal sent is disastrous for public engagement with protective behaviours,” he said.

Among the measures Drury said were important were listening to young people about their vaccine concerns and making it easier for them to get vaccinated. “Bring vaccination facilities to locations and time-slots that are convenient for young people.”

Prof Stephen Reicher, of the University of St Andrews, also a participant in Spi-B, agreed, adding that vaccine passports could alienate and distract from the things that engaged, and could be divisive, as they promoted an individualistic approach. “I think a far better approach is to use vaccines as an incentive, but at a collective level. That is, when we get to certain levels of vaccination then we can reopen facilities for everyone.”


Nicola Davis Science correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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