Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has confirmed that the vast majority of children will not be offered the Covid-19 vaccine for now.
His announcement came as the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation today issued advice that children outside of certain groups should not be offered routine vaccination.
According to today's advice, only children at increased risk of serious disease from Covid-19 or those living with an immunosuppressed person are offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
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These include children aged 12 to 15 with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities.
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But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We understand the reasons for this advice and support the need for caution because of the overriding importance of ensuring that children are not exposed to any risk which outweighs the potential benefit of a vaccine.
“However, this leaves us with the potential for very high numbers of infections among children in the autumn term, particularly given the relaxation of wider restrictions in society.
"This could mean yet more educational disruption as well as causing wider public health concerns."
Mr Barton called on the government to support schools and colleges with Covid protection measures.
He said: “It must provide suitably trained staff for on-site asymptomatic testing planned at the outset of the autumn term, make funding available for high-quality ventilation systems, ensure its new approach to contact tracing is robust and effective, and clarify contingency arrangements in the event of local outbreaks.
“The constant vagueness and confusion of its guidance and the virtual non-existence of material support for schools and colleges is completely unacceptable and must improve if we are to put an end to educational disruption and ensure that children remain in class.”
Patrick Roach, general secretary of NASUWT teaching union, said: “Much more needs to be done by Government to continue to support schools to maintain covid-safety, given the rising case numbers involving young people and the serious risk of increased community level transmission following lifting of Coronavirus restrictions this summer.
“Additional investment in effective onsite testing and other measures including enhanced ventilation and air quality systems will be vital in minimising further disruption to children’s education at the start of the new academic year.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT heads union, said the government needed to be clear about its reasoning behind the decision not to vaccinate pupils.
He said: “The idea that they [pupils] are less affected by Covid is demonstrably untrue given the massive disruption to their education over the last year, and also the worrying levels of long Covid in young people.
“The number of children off school actually sick with Covid is increasing, so disruption and missed education looks set to continue unless some action is taken to prevent transmission in schools.”