Public health experts are calling for the vaccine rollout to be extended to secondary schoolchildren as the more transmissible Delta variant tears through schools in Scotland.
Most Scottish students returned to school in the second week of August, and deputy first minister John Swinney warned it has driven a rise in cases in the country.
Reports suggest the NHS in England has now drawn up plans to start jabbing 12 to 15-year-olds from as early as the first week of term in September, according to the Telegraph, although the Department of Health said no such decision had been taken and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has yet to advise on broadening the rollout.
But parental rights organisation UsForThem, which was founded in May 2020 following the decision to close schools, said it had been flooded with calls from parents worried they would have no say.
Molly Kingsley, UsForThem’s co-founder, told the Telegraph: “Yes you have to ask for parental consent, but this begs the question of what is going to happen if consent is withheld?
“This is profoundly murky and it shatters any remaining trust parents have in the Government.
“It strikes me that given the uncertainty about whether a 12-year-old is competent to consent, there are serious liability issues for schools that press ahead with this on school premises.”
She added: “Medical procedures rely on informed consent. Asking children to make a decision of this magnitude is totally inappropriate.”
Medical procedures rely on informed consent. Asking children to make a decision of this magnitude is totally inappropriate.
Molly Kingsley, co-founder of UsForThem
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told ITV news on Thursday: “Parental consent will always be sought.
“If JVCI do reach a decision that children should be able to receive a vaccine, parental consent would always be asked before they receive that vaccine.”
He added: “It would be reassuring for parents to have that choice as to whether children would be able to have that vaccine but it always has to be based upon parental consent.”
The row over extending the rollout follows news the number of deaths in England estimated to have been prevented by the Covid-19 vaccine programme has topped 100,000.
Figures published on Thursday by Public Health England estimated that the rollout has directly averted between 102,500 and 109,500 deaths, and more than 82,100 hospital admissions.
So far, vaccines are being offered to healthy people aged 16 and above, and those considered at-risk in the 12-15 age bracket.
The Department of Health has said no decisions have yet been made to extend the vaccine to the younger age group, but said they “continue to plan for a range of scenarios”.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “No decisions have been made on vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds and it is inaccurate to suggest otherwise.
“Ministers have not yet received further advice from the JCVI on this cohort.
“We continue to plan for a range of scenarios to ensure we are prepared for all eventualities.”
According to a survey of 10 to 17-year-olds in the UK by the The Children’s Society, 62% of children said they want to get a Covid jab, while 11% said they would not want to.
Meanwhile, returning secondary school and college students in England are being urged to get tested – and vaccinated where possible – to stop coronavirus spreading and minimise disruption to lessons over the autumn.
NHS England said more than half a million 16 and 17-year-olds have had their first dose, with pop up vaccine centres set up in some festivals over the summer.
The Welsh Government has asked that parents test their children for coronavirus at least twice a week regardless of whether they have symptoms or not once the new academic year starts in September.
All 16 and 17-year-olds in Wales have now been offered the vaccine and 12 to 15-year-olds who are clinically vulnerable will also be offered vaccination before term starts.