Published: 05:00, 04 November 2021
| Updated: 13:27, 04 November 2021
People living in part of Kent wanting to get their booster jabs face a 128-mile round trip to Southend, according to the official NHS booking site.
Isle of Sheppey residents are being pointed to clinics in Essex for their third doses of the Covid vaccine.
As the crow flies, Southend Civic Centre walk-in clinic is only 7.6 miles from Sheerness but that doesn't take into account the mouth of the Thames Estuary which separates the two towns.
According to Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson, there are three clinics in Swale for injections – Superdrug and Asda in Sittingbourne and the Leysdown Pharmacy on Sheppey – but none were featuring on the NHS booking site this week.
Pensioner John Twiselton, 73, from Oak Avenue, Minster, ended up having his third jab in Canterbury on Saturday. (Oct 30) He asked: "Why can't Swale set up the same system?
"There were 10 production lines at Canterbury. During the week, it was open for anyone without booking.
"It was supposed to be bookings-only at the weekend but they were allowing people to walk in as well. They clearly had spare capacity and are open every day."
Mr Henderson said: "I have pressed the Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group to provide more locations as soon as possible."
Mr Henderson, also 73 and who lives on Sheppey, added: "My wife has booked her vaccination at Leysdown but I have not been able to do so.
"I can only ask constituents to be as patient as me at this time. I can assure you that everyone will be able to get a booster vaccine. Our time will come."
Mr Twiselton said: "I was in contact with my surgery and they did not have a clue when they would receive more vaccine.
"It is ludicrous for Kwasi Kwarteng (Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) to urge people to get their booster vaccination when there are not enough centres nearby.
"Leysdown is offering vaccinations for late November at the earliest. Nowhere else in Swale is offering booster vaccination dates.
"There is lots of availability in Medway and Canterbury where you can have your booster any day. The same applies to Southend!"
He added: "I feel sorry for people on the Island who do not have car transport to reach the Medway Towns or Canterbury. There is something wrong with the distribution system.
"When you go onto the NHS vaccine website the distances to vaccination centres are measured as the 'crow flies' which is why Southend comes up."
When we typed in Sheerness, the first five locations were all in Essex. The next nearest was Leybourne followed by Canterbury. There were no venues highlighted in Medway or the Isle of Grain where some Islanders were forced to get their first and second jabs.
Mr Twiselton said it could be why the UK's vaccination programme is falling behind the rest of Europe despite Britain being one of the early leaders.
He added: "The rise in infection and death rates in the UK is now becoming frightening. Western European countries are performing far better in both rates."
To be eligible for a booster jab, patients must wait six months and a week (190 days) after receiving their second Covid-19 injection.
The NHS says it is contacting people by letter, text or phone. People are advised not to call their GP but to use the national booking website or call 119.
On Monday, (Nov 1) the government announced it was setting up "hundreds of walk-in sites across the country" to offer booster vaccines as part of the NHS ‘Grab-a-Jab’ campaign.
'Almost every person registered with a GP practice lives within 10 miles of a fixed vaccination site.'
So far, more than seven million people in England have had the vital top-up dose, 1.2 million of them in the south east.
The official NHS release also boasted: "There are more clinics delivering vaccines now than at any other point in the programme, including pharmacies, GP practices and other community sites.
"Almost every person registered with a GP practice lives within 10 miles of a fixed vaccination site."
Those eligible for a booster can use the NHS online "walk-in finder" to pick "the most convenient site" without an appointment.
The centres are also offering vaccinations to 12 to 15-year-olds.
A spokesman for NHS Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group, which plans and pays for the county's healthcare, said: "We are working with providers in Swale to set up walk-in clinics for Covid-19 booster vaccinations which until recently have been bookable appointments only.
"Once these have been finalised they will be added to the national grab-a-jab website and the CCG’s vaccination pages."
He confirmed bookable services available in Swale were at Superdrug, Sittingbourne; Leysdown Pharmacy, Sheppey and the Asda Pharmacy, Sittingbourne and stressed all sites can give first, second and booster doses.
He added: "Walk-in clinics are added to the grab-a-jab site and the CCG’s pages throughout the week. More walk-in clinics in Medway are due to go live later this week."
'Ten new sites for Swale residents all in Medway or Maidstone'
He said 10 bookable clinics were available for Swale residents at: Rochester and Lordswood Healthy Living Centre, St Mary's Medical Centre in Strood, Boots the chemist, Chatham, Cliffe Woods Pharmacy, Rochester, Sturdee Avenue Pharmacy in Gillingham, Paydens at Larkfield, Pharmacy2u Maidstone, Lawsat Pharmn in Higham, Pharmacy 1st, Gillingham and Bryant Road Pharmacy, Rochester.
But Mr Twiselton hit back and said: "It defies belief that the next 10 walk-in centres will be in Medway or Maidstone.
"What is wrong with using the Appleyard in Sittingbourne or Friendship House, the Borough Hall or Trinity church on Sheppey?
"The Canterbury vaccine centre I went to was in the Sea Cadets HQ."
Swale has one of the highest areas of deprivation in Kent coupled with an ageing and increasing population.