Headteachers have warned ministers that they cannot rely solely on the vaccine to control Covid in schools, because teenage take-up may never be as high as in the general population.
Following a letter to parents of secondary-age students from education secretary Nadhim Zahawi and health secretary Sajid Javid earlier today, which urged parents to encourage their children to be tested regularly and get vaccinated, a heads' union has said it is important that "other measures" beside the vaccine are pursued.
Covid in schools: Zahawi pushes student vaccine as virus cases soar
Pupil absence: More than 200,000 pupils off because of Covid
Safety measures: DfE Covid rules 'actively help spread virus', say heads
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, said that the Covid vaccination programme in schools was proceeding "slowly", and added: "Unfortunately, one of the reasons for the slow deployment is that children are missing their chance for vaccination because they have caught Covid.
"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."
Warning over Covid vaccination in schools
He added: “We don’t know yet what the take-up of the vaccine will be for younger teens – it may never be as high as in the general population.
"So it is important that other measures are also pursued, such as improved ventilation and reconsidering current guidance on close contact isolation.
"We also need a track and trace system that is working effectively. This will help both to reduce illness and disruption and to speed up the vaccination rollout."
Mr Whiteman said that the "big issue schools are having at the moment is the number of children and staff off sick due to Covid and other illnesses".
According to the latest government data available, just 9 per cent of students aged 12 to 15 have had the vaccine.
"Overall, the government should adopt a precautionary principle. We can’t put all our eggs in one basket in the fight against Covid in schools. Testing is clearly important but it’s not a silver bullet," Mr Whiteman said.
The letter said members were concerned that siblings were able to continue attending school in the case of positive household contacts.
Last week, Mr Whiteman said these guidelines were causing the virus to spread.