TES Scotland

Scotland leads the way on teen jabs – but lags on keeping schools in the loop


When it was finally decided that 12- to 15-year-olds should be Covid vaccinated in the UK, England and Scotland took different approaches. Scotland decided to stick with the infrastruc­ture that had been put in place to vaccinate the adult population; England decided that schools needed another challenge to keep them busy and opted to have them provide space on site for the vaccine to be administer­ed, as well as time away from lessons for students to get the jab.

Now the results are in – and the Scottish approach appears to have been far more successful so far, with the media reporting at the weekend that the vaccinatio­n rate for the age group in England was just 14.2 per cent, compared with 44.3 per cent in Scotland.

It is understood that, within weeks, 12- to 15-year-olds in England will be allowed to get the vaccine at walk-in clinics in a bid to improve uptake.

Meanwhile, an investigat­ion earlier this month by our colleagues at

Tes also revealed that in some parts of England, progress with the vaccine rollout is far worse than the national figures would suggest. In an article published on 12 October, they reported that there were areas where as few as 3 per cent of those aged 12-15 had been vaccinated against Covid.

Crucially, it was the areas that had been hit with the highest levels of Covid educationa­l disruption that were among those with the lowest student vaccinatio­n uptake.

It’s important to stress that peaks and troughs in vaccinatio­n can also be seen here in Scotland.

The latest figures at the time of writing were for Monday of this week. They showed that 47.4 per cent of Scottish 12- to 15-year-olds had received a first dose of the vaccine, but, when looking at the figures by authority uptake, this ranged from 63 per cent in Dumfries and Galloway to just 17.1 per cent in Highland.

Highland also had lower uptake of the vaccine for 16- and 17-year-olds: the Scottish figure on Monday was 74 per cent uptake of the first dose, but for Highland that figure was 60.1 per cent. In East Lothian, however, uptake for that age group was sitting at 88.1 per cent (in that authority, 46.7 per cent of the 12-15 age group had been vaccinated as of Monday).

The rural nature of the area could be one explanatio­n for the lower uptake in Highland, but uptake in the Scottish councils with the largest population­s was also below the national figure for the 12-15 age group – in Edinburgh, 34.5 per cent had received a first dose, and in Glasgow, 38.6 per cent. Fife, however, was doing a better job of rolling out the vaccine – there, over half of the age group had received a first dose (55.4 per cent) as of Monday.

When it came to 16- and 17-yearolds, Edinburgh had got a first dose into 74.3 per cent of them, and Glasgow 62.8 per cent. In Fife, the figure was 72.1 per cent.

The vaccinatio­n of 12- to 15-yearolds got underway five weeks ago, with the UK’s chief medical officers (CMOs) giving the move their approval on 13 September after the Joint Committee on Vaccinatio­n and Immunisati­on ( JCVI) had, rather confusingl­y, decided not to

recommend mass vaccinatio­n earlier in the month.

However, the change in tack was explained as the CMOs taking into account not just the health impact of the vaccine but also the impact on things like children’s education.

Those aged 12-15 in Scotland, therefore, were able to access jabs from Monday 20 September, and it is entirely possible that, by the time this article is published, half of them will have been vaccinated.

Still, many secondary staff will be relieved at the news on Tuesday that face coverings are to be retained in secondary classrooms “for the time being”.

Changes to the guidance on safety measures in schools were being mooted last week, which would have meant face coverings only being required in “communal areas” following the October break – but not when students are seated in classrooms.

However, on Tuesday morning

– at the same time as many pupils were returning to school after their October break – the government said the previous sharp decline in Covid cases was now levelling off and that it was therefore taking “a cautious approach” : it was maintainin­g current safety mitigation­s in school, but restrictio­ns would be lifted at the “earliest possible time”.

Why, though, could that advice not have come at the end of last week – as initially expected – so that everyone returning to school this week was aware of the rules that would be in place?

It is reassuring that the Scottish government is making good progress rolling out the vaccine for secondary students, but if it can do that, surely it can break this damaging habit of leaving schools hanging on for essential guidance on all manner of Covid measures until the last possible moment – or later.

In the early stages of the pandemic, it was excusable, but now the government’s tardiness is tediously predictabl­e and the source of unnecessar­y worry and stress for a profession – and a student population – that already has more than enough to contend with.

Emma Seith is a reporter at Tes Scotland. She tweets @Emma_Seith

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