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Why students in the UK are struggling to book their Covid vaccine

Inconsistencies between vaccine records in England and Wales are creating obstacles for people trying to book another dose. We spoke to four students to learn more about how they’ve struggled to get vaccinated.

The vaccine booster programme is being rolled out at a record-breaking pace across the UK, as cases of the Omicron variant continue to soar. But inconsistencies in vaccine records are causing hurdles for some.

Those who received a first dose in Wales are struggling to book further appointments in England, often finding that their vaccine records are incomplete.

Many of those affected by the discrepancies are students who travel between their family home and university.

In June, NHS England published guidance on vaccination for students in higher education institutions.

The guidance advised students who received a first dose in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland to book their next vaccine in one of three ways: registering with a GP in England and booking an appointment through the National Booking Service; booking directly with their GP in England; or by approaching a local GP and asking to be vaccinated as an unregistered patient.

None of these options work, however, if a patient’s English vaccine record doesn’t recognise that a first dose has been received.

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The same guidance stated that NHS England are “working with the NHS in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to ensure that records of vaccinations in those nations flow into a patient’s English NHS record.” But several months later, the problem persists.

Thyme Francis, 23, Winchester

Thyme contacted her GP for help, after struggling to book her booster jab. She had her first two doses in Wales while she was a student at Cardiff University, before moving back to Winchester.

She said: “When I asked my GP to transfer my vaccine record over from Wales, they told me that the process for having your vaccinations added in England is a bit torturous. They said the systems used in different parts of the United Kingdom don’t talk to each other and I should try calling 119.”

Thyme was then directed to the NHS Covid overseas website and told she would need to book an appointment to have her vaccine records transferred. The closest centre available for her to do this was in Manchester – roughly 200 miles from her home.

“I went back to my GP to see if they could help. They told me that GP practices in England can’t validate vaccinations from Wales ‘unless they are running a Covid vaccination centre registered to provide a vaccination data resolution service, and there are very few of those in England.’”

To get around the issue, Thyme’s GP asked a local vaccination centre to get in touch with her to arrange an appointment.

Oliver Nisbett, 21, Shrewsbury

Oliver, a former student at Bangor University, had similar problems when trying to book his second vaccine.

He had his first dose in Bangor on 12 May, before moving back to England in mid-June.

Despite having registered with a new GP in Shrewsbury, he was unable to book his second dose online.

“I called 119 and went through the automated system, but it kept telling me I needed to book my first dose. Eventually I was told I needed to talk to my GP.

“When I called my GP they told me they’d had a lot of issues with this, because of NHS Wales and NHS England not talking to each other. Eventually I was referred to the Covid vaccination coordinator at my GP, who emailed a drop-in centre for me.”

Lois Brooks, 22, Folkstone

Lois also received her first dose in Wales, while she was a student at Cardiff University.

She said: “I left Cardiff in June, about six weeks after I had my first jab. I knew I could have my second dose after eight weeks, so I registered with a GP in Kent and rang them to see when I could book it.

“They said there was nothing on their system about my first dose, so I gave them my batch number and the name of the venue where I’d had it and they said they’d update my records.”

After calling back several times, Lois’ records still hadn’t been updated. “I kept getting texts from the NHS saying I needed to book my first vaccine, and I couldn’t book my second jab online because it kept asking me to book my first one.

“At this point, I was worried I might need a Covid passport to go abroad or go to a club. My GP eventually told me I wouldn’t be able to book it with them and to find a walk-in centre instead.”

Lucy Darby, 22, Worcester

Also a graduate from Cardiff University, Lucy experienced similar problems after re-registering with a GP near her family home in Worcester.

She eventually decided to travel back to Cardiff to get her second vaccine.

“It got to nearly twelve weeks after I’d had my first jab and I still hadn’t heard anything about getting my second. I called up my GP and said I needed my second dose pretty swiftly to be within the twelve week period. They told me that I’d get it done quicker if I went back to Cardiff instead.”

Having already had a second appointment booked for her in Cardiff by NHS Wales, Lucy travelled nearly 90 miles to get her second vaccine.

A spokesperson for NHS England has said: “The system has been set up so that people who are registered with a GP in England should still be able to access their vaccine records if they have received one or both of their vaccinations in Wales.

“If there are any instances where that hasn’t happened then NHS England runs a vaccine data resolution service which people can access by calling 119.”

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