Why are we making it so difficult for students to get vaccinated?

Do you remember those months at the start of the academic year when students testing positive were showing up in stats at their home address rather than in their university towns and cities?

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

The issue, where positive England Pillar 2 tests were being allocated to the wrong area if students studying away from hadn’t yet switched GP, only actually got fixed in late November.

It’s a curious long-standing public policy failure that students who study away from home are told they must only ever be registered with one GP. The idea that for a period of time these citizens have two addresses is apparently beyond us.

It’s worth remembering that back in November students studying away from home were basically told to clear off home in the first week of December, and many of them have still not been asked to return.

When they got to university, they should have registered with a new GP. In any normal holiday the NHS says:

If you become unwell or need other medical treatment when you’re at home or not staying near your university GP, you can contact your nearest practice to ask for treatment.”

But it also says:

You can receive emergency treatment for 14 days. After that you will have to register as a temporary resident or permanent patient.”

So what on earth have they been doing since? Remember legally, they’re still in their “vacation household”.

As well as the breathtaking inconvenience, the problem is that this is now a serious vaccination issue. A small percentage of students are in categories where they’re already eligible for the vaccine. And in theory we’ll be vaccinating the bulk of students in around June time.

But vaccine eligibility is generally linked to where your GP is. So if you’re not where your GP is because you’re at “home”, and your GP is “at university”, as it stands you’ll have to travel back to university to get your quick, simple, over-in-seconds jab. Twice.

We’ve already heard stories of students in priority categories who’ve been isolating at home due to health conditions being offered the vaccine at their university address and being told they weren’t allowed to change it – and vice versa.

For students studying away from home, I’ll never understand why it’s beyond us to create a sensible dual registration policy for students and GP services. The impact on disabled students in particular continues to be significant.

But on vaccination, students are already much less likely to get the vaccine than the rest of the population on average. Surely we can fix this now, before we hit a major participation failure in June?

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