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COVID-19: Younger age groups will take longer to vaccinate than older as enthusiasm wanes

An initially enthusiastic COVID-19 vaccine uptake by younger people has petered out so it will take longer to reach the levels of vaccination seen in older groups, Sky News analysis has found.

Around two in five people aged 18-29 in England have still not had their first jab since the programme was opened up to all over-18s on 18 June.

But in the same amount of time after 40-49 year olds had been offered their COVID-19 jabs, only a quarter had not had their first dose.

COVID-19 vaccinations in the UK began being administered in December and by 12 April, everyone over 49 years old and anyone younger with underlying health conditions had been offered their first jab.

Since then, the vaccine has been offered to the remaining groups by descending age, with all over-40s by 30 April, all over-30s by 26 May, 25-29 year olds by 8 June then all over-18s 10 days later.

A larger proportion of older people are vulnerable and so had already been vaccinated when the government opened appointments up to entire age groups.

This means there appears to be more enthusiastic uptake among younger people in the first 40 days (34% compared to 28% of 45 to 49-year-olds).

But when you look at the rollout over this period as a percentage of the people left to be vaccinated, the uptake among 45 to 49-year-olds is almost 10 percentage points higher than under-25s.

All age groups have seen a levelling off in the uptake rate after a while.

But the younger groups have levelled off at a much lower vaccination proportion, meaning a lower total percentage has received the vaccine.

Why is there now a lower uptake among younger people?

Dr Raghib Ali, honorary consultant physician in acute medicine at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and a government adviser on COVID-19, said there were two main reasons fewer younger people are getting the vaccine now.

He told Sky News: “As a lot of this age group are getting infected, some think they are immune anyway so they don’t need the vaccine.

“The risks are lower for younger people if they get COVID-19 so some don’t think they need the vaccine, but they still do.

“Some have also developed COVID in the interim after the first dose so they’ve had to delay getting their second, which could be affecting numbers.

“There’s no doubt we’re struggling to get higher uptake in lower age groups than we’d like.

“It’s a bit of inertia as well as natural infection affecting the numbers but we’d expect that to improve in the coming weeks if cases continue to fall.

“Now is also a really good time to be able to get both doses before starting university in September – you don’t want to be self-isolating when you get there.”

Since the beginning of June, case rates have been higher in 20-29 year olds, and although the 25-29 age group was invited to come for their vaccines from 8 June, the rates have remained higher than any other age group.

Dr Andrew Preston, an infectious diseases microbiologist at the University of Bath, said the levelling off of vaccine uptake in younger people started just before the Delta variant became prevalent in the UK.

“I’d like to think the Delta variant has demonstrated the importance of vaccination,” he told Sky News.

“But there are a large number of younger people who are ambivalent or don’t want to get it as there is still residual concern of the safety of the vaccines, even though younger people only get Pfizer or Moderna.

“That age group get their news in different ways so I suspect messaging has penetrated less than those who watch mainstream news, where it’s been at the forefront since December.

“The levelling off has certainly helped fuel the peak we’ve seen in the last few weeks.”

He added that the government trying to “incentivise” young people to get both vaccine doses by making double-vaccination mandatory for nightclubs, as well as potentially for Premier League football matches and in-person teaching at university, is unhelpful.

“Anybody who has teenagers will know they don’t like being told what to do by older people, especially the government,” he said.

“This is quite serious as we’re talking about a legacy for future vaccination campaigns as well.

“They need to find new ways of getting the message to younger groups and ultimately the evidence will speak for itself – people without vaccines will become poorly through the winter.

“We would be seeing less circulation of the virus if there was higher uptake in younger age groups.”

Both scientists agreed the data will need to be looked at again in a couple of weeks to see if the current reduction in cases is sustained as there is always a lag after lockdown is eased, as it was on 19 July.

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