Health trust rows back over plans for pupils if parents withhold consent
A local health authority has rowed back on plans to send pupils who want the Covid jab but whose parents have refused consent to mass vaccination centres rather than them receiving it in school.
The details were laid out in a letter sent to headteachers by the Oxford Health NHS foundation trust, which also clarifies that any child whose parent has given consent but refuses the vaccine themselves will not be forced to have it.
The trust later clarified, however, that following further discussions no children in the 12-15 age cohort would be directed to turn up at large-scale vaccination centres. The trust also said its teams would work closely with headteachers in obtaining parental consent.
Schools are worried they could get caught up in family disputes over vaccination, and have sought confirmation from ministers that health teams responsible for delivering the jabs will deal with any consent issues.
The letter, seen by the Guardian, addresses some of those concerns. It says: “Any child, for whom a parent/ carer has given consent, who refuses the vaccination themselves would not be coerced/forced to have it.
“A discussion with the child would take place to ascertain their reason for refusal and their wishes would be respected. Any young person who attends for vaccination for whom consent from a parent/carer has not been given will not be vaccinated in school. These young people will be provided with information about the vaccine and will be directed to a mass vaccination centre.”
However, a spokesperson for the trust said later that the 3 September letter was intended to outline potential scenarios for discussion to support the potential rollout of vaccinations to all 12-15-year-olds.
“The letter made it clear that further details would be provided in due course as it was sent some 10 days before the government’s announcement [on jabs for this age group] and pending more detailed national guidance.
“Oxford Health can confirm that no children in the 12-15 age cohort will be directed to turn up at large-scale vaccination centres to receive a vaccination, and that our teams will be working closely with headteachers in obtaining parental consents and delivering vaccines when requested to do so, in line with the guidance on consent as outlined by the chief medical officers [on Monday].”
Letters are expected to be sent out to parents of 12- to 15-year-olds imminently, describing the jab programme and seeking parental consent.
According to the Oxford letter, which is likely to reflect the situation across the country, the window for vaccinations is tight, with the aim of completing the programme within six weeks, ideally ahead of the autumn half-term. Shots will be administered through lunch and break times to speed up the process.
Schools will be asked for a groundfloor room with an entry and exit, large enough to accommodate 10 vaccinators. There must be enough space to allow for pupils to be observed for 15 minutes post-jab, and the Oxford letter asks headteachers to provide a “thin crash mat and a bucket/dish for students who may feel nauseous and a screen for privacy”.
In recent days, schools across the country have received letters as part of a coordinated campaign threatening legal action, warning that headteachers will be held personally liable in the event of any child suffering ill-effects from vaccination on the school site.
The government is expected to publish guidance shortly, making clear that schools have no legal liability with regard to Covid vaccines for 12- to 15-year-olds. The guidance is also expected to make clear that issues around consent will be matters for the NHS staff who are trained to assess “Gillick competence”, rather than school staff.
The Gillick competency test applies in cases where it is necessary to assess whether a child has the maturity to make their own informed decisions. Factors which are taken into account include age, maturity and understanding of the issue, what it involves, plus any risks and the advantages and disadvantages that might arise.