Young people aged 12 to 15-years-old will be offered the Covid vaccine in the UK from this week in a schools based vaccination programme
Schools will start offering jabs to 12 to 15-year-old pupils this week after the UK’s top medics gave the plan the green light.
Some 3 million youngsters are now eligible for the Covid vaccine as part of wider Government efforts to battle the virus this winter.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) decided against recommending mass vaccination of this age group on medical grounds alone – but handed the decision to the UK’s chief medical officers.
England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and his counterparts decided to press ahead with the move on “public health grounds” as they argued it was “likely vaccination will help reduce transmission of Covid-19 in schools”.
Children have suffered significant disruption to their education during the pandemic and the Government is keen to ensure schools don’t have to close again.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid immediately backed the plan, paving the way for 12 to 15-year-olds to begin being offered vaccines this week.
Here’s how the rollout will work.
Which children will get the jab?
All children aged 12 to 15-years-old will be offered a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
The chief medical officers think one dose will significantly cut the risk of teens getting Covid and passing the virus on.
Clinical evidence shows that a single dose of Pfizer reduces the risk of catching the Delta variant by 55% and has a much higher effect on preventing severe illness and death.
The medics decided against recommending two doses after considering data from the US and Canada, which indicated a higher rate of an extremely rare inflammation of the heart muscle, known as myocarditis, after a second dose.
Some youngsters may have already been vaccinated because they have underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to the virus.
Who will be administering the jabs?
The rollout will be run by the School Age Immunisation Service (SAIS), which already delivers vaccinations in schools for things like flu and HPV.
Schools will work with their local SAIS provider to arrange vaccination sessions and to set up facilities on site.
Heads will be responsible for ensuring parents and children get information leaflets, consent forms and invitation letters from SAIS about the Covid vaccine.
They will also be asked to compile lists of which pupils are eligible for the jab.
The vaccines will be done by healthcare staff, “which may include nurses, healthcare support workers, administrative staff, and other associated professionals who specialise in the delivery of school age vaccinations”, according to the Government.
It will be done in schools wherever possible but the official guidance says “there might be certain areas or certain schools where this is not possible”.
Will is be mandatory?
No. The Government has not made getting vaccinated a legal requirement for anyone, regardless of age.
Former Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi, who is now the Education Secretary, said “no one should be stigmatised” by the vaccination programme.
However it is strongly encouraged as the vaccine has been proven to give vital protections against the virus.
Will parents be asked for their consent?
Yes. Schools have been told to supply consent forms to parents, who are asked to make the decision in consultation with their children.
Information leaflets will be addressed to pupils as the recipients of the jab – but parents are asked for consent and can refuse.
Consent forms will be collected by schools and given to the healthcare staff doing the vaccines.
Schools are not responsible for the consent process. Nurses or other healthcare staff will be in charge of this.
Can a child overrule their parents?
In some circumstances. Some older children will be deemed mature enough to give their own consent.
The guidance says: “This sometimes occurs if a parent has not returned a consent form but the child still wishes to have the vaccine on the day of the session.
“Every effort will be made to contact the parent to seek their verbal consent. The school has no role in this process.”
Young people can overrule their parents through a legal process known as a “Gillick competence”.
This is a longstanding precedent, which says children can give consent if they deemed to be competent to understand a decision about their own healthcare.
Trained professionals will speak to the child about this and try to reach agreement with their parents.
But a parent cannot overrule a child if they are deemed competent to make the choice.
You can read more about this process here.
What happens if my child misses the session or changes their mind?
There will be follow up offers for any pupil who misses the vaccination session at their school.
Only those who are over 12-years-old and have consented to get their jab that day will be inoculated.
But children who miss the session because they are absent on the day or have recently had Covid will be invited for a follow up.
Pupils who turn 12 shortly after the session or those who have taken longer to decide or changed their minds can still get jabbed.
These catch-up sessions are likely to be done outside of schools.
What about 16 to 17-year-olds?
Older teenagers have already been offered the vaccine through the adult jabs programme.
The NHS will contact 16 and 17-year-olds when it’s their turn, and they will be invited to a local NHS service such as a GP surgery.
Some walk-in sites are offering jabs to 16 and 17-year-olds. Additionally, some walk-in COVID-19 vaccination sites are offering the vaccine to people aged 16 and 17 years.
Some schools may have capacity to include older teens in the sessions but it will depend on the local SAIS provider.
Schools told to prepare for protests
Heads have been told to contact police if they believe there will be “disruptive activity” around vaccinations.
Some schools have been receiving campaign letters and emails with misinformation about the jab, the Government said.
The guidance states: “In the event of a protest or disruptive activity outside a school, or if schools know a protest is planned, they should alert the SAIS provider, Local Authority and police contacts to discuss the best way to manage the situation.”
Teachers have been advised not to engage directly with misinformation.