Covid Scotland: Vaccine clinics to be set up on university campuses
Drop-in clinics could also be set up outside busy pubs, bars and restaurants across Scotland in a bid to encourage more young people to take up the vaccine.
The Scottish Government is coming under increasing pressure to improve the vaccine rollout among young people after it emerged that so far, only 71.5 per cent of 18 to 29-year-olds in Scotland have had an initial dose of a vaccine, with more than 250,000 still to receive one.
The figures come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is believed to be considering banning unvaccinated students from in-person teaching at universities in England, which university and student groups warned would “unfairly penalise” groups within society.
The Scottish Government said it had no plans to make the vaccine mandatory for returning students.
However, opposition politicians warned that mass movement of unvaccinated students around and into Scotland could result in a wave of infections. Last year, hundreds of students contracted the virus after returning to university campuses, with many more forced to self isolate.
Scottish Conservative education spokesman Oliver Mundell said: "The SNP oversaw a chaotic situation last year when students returned to halls. They are running the risk of that happening again by missing their own key rollout targets.
"Ministers should be doing everything they can to ensure that students can safely return to universities to enjoy in-person learning. Guaranteeing students are fully vaccinated can play a huge part in that.”
Scottish Lib Dem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Students heading to university will be one of the biggest movements of unvaccinated people around the country. The government needs to make it as easy as possible for them to have their jabs, and prevent a repeat of the outbreaks that we saw in universities a year ago.
“That means pop-up clinics at universities and a public information campaign to encourage everyone to get jabbed at the first possible opportunity.”
Scottish Labour education spokesman Michael Marra said: “As a result of the SNP dragging their feet on vaccinating Scottish students, many will be starting university with partial or no protection, as will many of those arriving from elsewhere.
“We know all too well how dangerous the start of a new university term can be – and yet not enough has been done to avoid a repeat of last year.”
Higher education minister Jamie Hepburn confirmed vaccination clinics would be set up at universities. Before the Christmas break last year, asymptomatic testing centres were set up at universities to allow students to ensure they tested negative on a lateral flow test before returning to family homes.
Mr Hepburn said: “We are discussing a range of measures with universities and colleges to help ensure students get vaccinated as soon as possible, so they’ll be fully vaccinated before arriving on campus.
"We have agreed with health boards and higher and further education institutions to appoint single points of contact in universities and colleges. This will support the delivery of the vaccination to students, including the use of on-campus vaccination clinics.”
He added: “While we very strongly encourage students to take up the vaccine, whether they are attending in-person learning or not, the Scottish Government has no plans to make vaccination mandatory."
A spokesman for Universities Scotland said: “Universities have been encouraging and supporting the Scottish Government to roll out the vaccination programme and strongly encourage new and returning students to get vaccinated and have both jags in the interests of their safety and that of others.
"However, we’d take issue with any measures that look to single out students as a specific group and make their access to education conditional on the vaccine.
“Having only recently had clarity on the availability of the vaccine to under-18s, universities are keen to assist with targeted communications to ensure that new students, including some who are under 18, have been given opportunities to get both vaccines as soon as possible.
"Whilst time is now against us, Scotland’s universities are working with their health boards to see how we can support the vaccine roll-out amongst students including ideas such as ‘pop up’ vaccination clinics.”
Reports have claimed that during video meetings with colleagues while in isolation at Chequers last week, Prime Minister Mr Johnson suggested that students in higher and further education settings should face compulsory vaccination, subject to certain medical exemptions.
If unvaccinated, they could be banned from attending lectures or staying in halls of residence. However, it is believed the Department for Education has reservations about the suggestion.
NUS Scotland president Matt Crilly said: “NUS Scotland has serious concerns about the UK Government’s proposals, which threaten to unfairly penalise groups within society.
“I would encourage students to get vaccinated – to protect ourselves, those around us, and to allow us to get as close to normal as we can.
"NUS Scotland welcomes steps taken by the Scottish Government, the NHS, and our institutions to expand the reach, and encourage the uptake, of the vaccination programme.”
Stephen Reicher, an academic at the University of St Andrews and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) subcommittee advising on behavioural science, told The Telegraph that he believed the idea of vaccine passports would backfire, but backed the idea of setting up clinics outside bars.
"The best way to improve take-up is through engagement," Mr Reicher said.
"Go to communities rather than wait for them to come to you. Treat people's doubts with respect, listen to them and answer them; use community members and leaders to communicate.
"For instance, for all the talk of green passes [vaccine passports] in Israel, engagement policies – such as having mobile vaccination units outside bars in Tel Aviv – probably played a bigger part in getting young people jabbed."
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