The NHS “grab a jab” campaign is giving teenagers the needle – forcing thousands to trek for hours to get the vaccine.
Walk-in centres offer the Covid vaccine to 16 and 17-year-olds. But thousands live in towns without a dedicated centre for their age group.
When they call up the NHS jab finder site they can be sent on round-trips of five hours-plus.
The Sunday Mirror found a string of crazy examples, with some teens being advised to travel 70 miles each way. With the bulk unable to drive, it means long jaunts on buses, trains – or both.
Labour’s shadow health minister Justin Madders said: “It is ridiculous to expect under-18s to travel so far. Having to use public transport to get to jab sites surely puts teens at greater risk of getting Covid in the first place.
“That is another reason why the Government’s decision to end compulsory face coverings on public transport was a mistake.”
Many centres on the NHS site are available for over-18s only. With half of 16 and 17-year-olds yet to be jabbed it is feared access difficulties are hampering take-up.
On Friday, the web tool sent children in Scarborough, North Yorks, to Market Weighton, near Hull – 36 miles away.
The quickest journey by bus takes two hours and 42 minutes – making a return trip almost five-and-a-half hours. Taking a train part of the way cuts it to 97 minutes each way.
It was worse in Hornsea, East Yorks, where Kerry Pace, 48, received a letter inviting her daughter Charlotte, 16, for a jab. The finder offered Mexborough, Leeds or Grimsby – 65, 70 and 48 miles respectively.
Kerry said: “I’d been shielding and Charlotte was desperate to get the vaccine because she was so fearful of bringing Covid home to me. Grab a jab makes it sound easy and straightforward – but it wasn’t for us.”
Lucas Ryan, 17, faced similar frustration in East Grinstead, West Sussex. He was offered Tonbridge (17 miles), Croydon (20) and Orpington (22). He ended up being vaccinated at a walk-in centre on a day trip to London.
Mum Amanda, 49, said: “My son doesn’t drive and two of the sites required several changes of public transport if he’d been unable to get a lift.”
The madness appeared to be nationwide. In Ludlow, Shrops, youngsters were offered Hereford, Telford or Worcester – all more than 20 miles. There were no facilities listed in Workington, Cumbria – so Carlisle, 32 miles away, was the closest. Teenagers in Southport were told Liverpool – 19 miles – is their nearest option.
In Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs, a college worker said pupils “desperate” for a jab were told the nearest centre was in Cannock, 40 minutes down the M6 – or two-and-a-half hours on public transport.
The NHS said its walk-in finder only displays centres open at the time of a search – not those that are closed or temporarily unavailable.
Yesterday it did show one place in Stoke – and a pop-up facility at a Scarborough shopping centre.
GP Helen Salisbury, an Oxford University fellow and member of the Independent Sage panel of scientists, said convenient access to sites is crucial “because they make such a difference”.
She said: “One of the main ways of helping people is making it really easily available and really, really well publicised so everybody knows when and where they can get it.”
Teens are offered the Pfizer vaccine. Unlike adults, they cannot book a slot via the National Booking System.
The NHS, which runs the walk-in finder, said sites are added daily, including pop-up clinics. A spokesman some teenagers may be called by their GP directly to take up a jab locally.