'Heads must not be made to police student Covid jabs'

School leaders have welcomed new jab plans but a union has said that schools should not be responsible for promoting or policing take up

John Roberts

Back to school: Scientists warn of 'mass' Covid infection of pupils

Headteachers have welcomed reports that 16- and 17-year-olds are set to be offered Covid vaccinations.

But there have also been calls from school leaders to ensure that schools are not expected to be involved in the “promotion, enforcement or policing” of vaccines among their students.

An announcement on a recommendation to extend the Covid-19 vaccination programme to 16- and 17-year-olds is expected soon.

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The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is expected to make a recommendation on extending the vaccination programme “imminently”, officials have said.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We would very much welcome vaccinations being routinely offered to all over-16s [those who are 16 and older].  

"The summer term ended with very large numbers of children and young people having to self-isolate for Covid-related reasons and while the rules on self-isolation will change in the autumn term there is a real risk of yet more disruption caused by transmission of the virus.

"It is therefore vital that everything possible is done to minimise the danger of young people having to spend more time out of school or college."

Mr Barton also raised the issue of whether younger year groups in secondary schools could be offered the vaccine.

He said: “The question of offering routine vaccinations for 12- to 15-year-olds must also be kept under review and if the emerging evidence suggests that the benefits outweigh any risks then the government must be ready to act accordingly because this could help in reducing educational disruption for this age group.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, said: “ The debate about whether or not to vaccinate older children has been raging for many weeks. NAHT has always said that UK policy on child vaccination should be led by clinicians.

“To the extent that any such policy is controversial it is clear that schools should not carry any responsibility for vaccination promotion, enforcement or policing.”

Experts have said that offering a Covid-19 vaccine to 16 and 17-year-olds could reduce transmission of the virus and limit disruption to their schooling.

The latest data from the React study, tracking Covid-19 in the population, showed that younger people had driven a recent surge in infections in England, and scientists say extending the vaccine programme would reduce transmission and limit the spread of the virus in winter months.

Asked about giving 16- and 17-year-olds a vaccine, Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London and co-author of the React study, said: “Our data would support that in that we’d expect there to be a really good knock-on effect from extending the vaccinations for that group.”

Last month vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said 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 issued advice that children outside of certain groups should not be offered routine vaccination.

According to that July advice, only children at increased risk of serious disease from Covid-19 or those living with an immunosuppressed person would be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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