Parents urged to get children Covid-19 jabs amid vaccine rollout concerns

·4-min read

Ministers have urged parents to get their children vaccinated against Covid-19 amid concerns about the vaccination programme in secondary schools.

The plea comes after the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that around one in 15 children in school years 7 to 11 in England are estimated to have had coronavirus in the week to October 2.

A school leaders’ union has said head teachers are “increasingly frustrated” about delays to the Covid-19 vaccination programme for 12- to 15-year-olds in schools at a time of rising pupil absences.

The latest data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) suggests that just 9% of this cohort in England had been vaccinated by October 3.

In a joint letter to parents of secondary school and college pupils, the Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi and Health Secretary Sajid Javid have said “vaccines are our best defence”.

Three million pupils aged between 12 and 15 across the UK are eligible to receive a first Covid-19 jab as part of a rollout that began three weeks ago.

The programme is expected to be delivered primarily within schools, but in Scotland young people in this cohort can also go to drop-in vaccine clinics.

More than a third of 12- to 15-year-olds in Scotland have received a jab, the latest figures suggest.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has said it would support the use of walk-in centres in England if it would help to “boost take-up and speed of delivery” of vaccines among the age group.

It comes after figures showed the number of children out of school for Covid-19 related reasons in England increased by two-thirds in a fortnight.

The Department for Education (DfE) estimates that 2.5% of all pupils – more than 204,000 children – were not in class for reasons connected to coronavirus on September 30.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL, said: “We welcome the intervention of the Education Secretary in encouraging take-up of Covid vaccinations, and indeed anything else that can be done to boost this crucial programme.

“However, school leaders are increasingly frustrated about delays to the rollout of coronavirus vaccinations.

“There appear to be logistical issues around the capacity of health teams to deliver vaccinations at the speed and scale required.

“The urgency of this programme is self-evident from the fact that the latest Government statistics show that more than 200,000 pupils were out of school at the latest count because of coronavirus-related reasons. Many schools are also experiencing teacher shortages because staff are contracting the virus.”

Mr Barton has called on the Government to “do everything possible” to ensure the vaccination programme is properly resourced in a bid to tackle disruption.

“If walk-in centres would help to boost take-up and speed of delivery we would very much welcome that,” he added.

Provisional data from the Government’s coronavirus dashboard suggests that 11.7% of 12- to 15-year-olds in England have been vaccinated as of October 10, compared to 38.9% of 12- to 15-year-olds in Scotland.

In the letter on Monday, Mr Zahawi and Mr Javid asked for parents’ “support” to encourage their children to test themselves for Covid-19 twice a week and to “come forward” for the jab to ensure face-to-face lessons can continue.

It said: “This is one of the best things young people can do to protect themselves and those around them.”

The letter adds: “Vaccines are our best defence against Covid-19. They help protect young people, and benefit those around them. Vaccination makes people less likely to catch the virus and less likely to pass it on.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “The vaccination programme is proceeding slowly in secondary schools. It is important that parents and young people are offered the vaccine as quickly as possible so that they can make their decision about whether to take it.

“Unfortunately, one of the reasons for the slow deployment is that children are missing their chance for vaccination because they have caught Covid-19.

“If they are off sick they miss vaccination slots at school – and they cannot be jabbed while they are ill anyway – there is a 28-day waiting period before a child who has had Covid can then have the vaccine.”

He called for other measures to be pursued – such as improved ventilation – to reduce illness and disruption and “to speed up the vaccination rollout”.

An NHS spokesperson said: “In just a few weeks, hundreds of schools have already held vaccination clinics, with almost 200,000 children aged 12-15 already protected.

“As the rollout continues, local providers are continuing to contact schools and working with parents to agree consent so they can organise a visit.”

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