The Daily Telegraph

Parents told to get their children vaccinated

Scientists back single dose to keep pupils in classrooms and help their mental health

- By Lucy Fisher, Lizzie Roberts and Camilla Turner

PARENTS will be asked to vaccinate their children to keep schools open and “reduce educationa­l disruption”, the chief medical officers said yesterday.

The plan to give a single dose of the Pfizer/biontech jab to 12 to 15-year-olds was given the green light and letters are expected to go to parents this week.

Around three million pupils will be offered the jab, with the first vaccinatio­ns for this group expected to take place next week.

The move comes despite the Joint Committee on Vaccinatio­n and Immunisati­on (JCVI) deciding not to recommend the mass vaccinatio­n of 12, 13, 14 and 15-year-olds, as it concluded the jab would provide only a marginal benefit to that cohort, which is at a low risk from the virus. Prof Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England, said he and his Uk-wide counterpar­ts had taken into account the impact of the pandemic on children’s schooling as well as the risks to their mental health from missing in-person classes. Announcing the decision, he said the vaccinatio­n programme was “not a silver bullet” or “panacea”, but would be a “potentiall­y useful tool” to “reduce educationa­l disruption” and its impact on children’s life chances.

Meanwhile, the JCVI is today expected to approve a booster programme that will roll out a third dose to all over-50s, recommendi­ng a six-month gap is left between the second and third jab. It is expected to start later this month and will be rolled out in a similar way to the initial and second doses, being offered to older cohorts first.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said further JCVI guidance was needed before any decision on a second dose for children. Jab status will “not be used in any way” to assess a child’s ability to receive an education, he vowed in the Commons.

Last night Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, confirmed that he had accepted the recommenda­tion for children.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith warned that the Government risked creating “family disputes” over allowing children to get jabbed without parental consent.

The Prime Minister said last night: “The pandemic is far from over, but thanks to our phenomenal vaccine programme, new treatments and testing, we are able to live with the virus without significan­t restrictio­ns on our freedoms.” He said his winter plan was designed to “protect the gains we have made” throughout a period when the virus has “a natural advantage”.

Acknowledg­ing that the question of whether to offer the jab to children aged 12 to 15 had been a “difficult decision”, Prof Whitty said that it was now up to parents and children whether they should receive it. Asked what advice he would give the mother or father of a healthy teenager mulling over the decision, he said: “In a sense, what we’re not trying to do is say to children ‘you must, must, must, must, must’, but what we’re saying is that we think on balance the benefits both at an individual level and in terms of wider indirect benefits to education and through that to public health are in favour, otherwise we would not be making this recommenda­tion.”

‘What we’re saying is that the benefits… to education and through that to public health are in favour’

The onus on parents and children to come to their own conclusion was echoed more widely in the medical community. The Royal College of GPS said that the decision to jab pupils should be “an individual one” made by parents and children themselves, adding they should be “supported to understand the pros and cons and to make an informed choice”, without being “pressurise­d” or “castigated”.

The Government confirmed that parental, guardian or carer consent would be sought by healthcare staff prior to vaccinatio­n in schools.

However, parental consent will not be needed if the child is considered competent to make a decision by themselves. Prof Whitty said for the “great majority of cases, children and their parents come to the same decision”.

Prof Whitty said the CMOS’ recommenda­tion was based only on an assessment of the benefits and risks to 12, 13, 14 and 15-year-olds and not any other segment of the population. Vaccinatio­ns are not being considered for children under 12 years old, he confirmed.

The interventi­on was made as Boris Johnson prepares to unveil his plan for managing Covid throughout the autumn and winter. He will appear at a press conference this afternoon, after Mr Javid updates the Commons.

Mr Johnson’s winter plan will stress that vaccines are the first line of defence against the virus, supported by testing and a cutting-edge variant surveillan­ce system. Public Health England analysis suggests the vaccinatio­n programme has led to the prevention of 24,702,000 infections and 112,300 deaths, to Aug 27.

The blueprint is expected to result in a range of emergency powers, such as the ability to cap the number of people allowed to gather at events, being scrapped.

The ability to mandate the wearing of masks and to reinstruct people to work from home will be retained as levers ministers can use if needed, it is understood. Prof Whitty warned yesterday that this winter there would “continue to be challenges, there will continue to be pressure on the NHS and there will continue to be disruption to education from Covid”.

He stressed that the vaccine alone would not keep schools open and said ministers would have to avoid introducin­g policies that resulted in children missing time in the classroom. While “confident” that the mass vaccinatio­n of youngsters would reduce disruption to their education, he said: “We are also confident that this will not eliminate disruption, that is very much central to how we want to present this informatio­n.” He added: “We definitely do not think… that this alone is going to be the thing that deals with education issues and it’s really important that policies are kept in place that minimise, or policies are not put in place that increase, the risk that further disruption will occur.”

Official guidance currently states that if just five pupils or staff members test positive for Covid within 10 days and are likely to have mixed closely, schools can step up their measures.

This could include bringing back bubbles – which have been blamed for much of the disruption in schools over the past 18 months – face masks and even sending a year group home to isolate.

Schools across the country have already started stepping up restrictio­ns, just days into the new academic year. Some have mandated face masks to be worn in the classroom by all pupils and cancelled sports fixtures while others have sent year groups home.

Teaching unions have been vocally in favour of jabbing children, and have warned ministers that failing to roll out the vaccine to secondary school pupils could mean another term of chaos.

‘Thanks to our phenomenal vaccine programme, new treatments and testing, we are able to live with Covid’

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