More than 800 secondary schools in England will be visited by health teams from this week to offer the coronavirus vaccine to children aged 12 to 15
Health secretary Sajid Javid said the vaccines “will help keep children in the classroom”. More than 600,000 children have been vaccinated since the rollout was extended last month, NHS England said. Some 163,000 received a jab in the last week after the national booking system was opened up to eligible under-16s.
Last month, the UK’s chief medical officers recommended that children aged 12 to 15 be offered one dose of a COVID vaccine. The NHS began the rollout in England on 20 September.
Efforts to vaccinate pupils as many return to the classroom from the half-term break comes as cases in England remain high. Javid said: “The vaccines are safe and will help keep children in the classroom – I encourage everyone to come forward for their jab to protect themselves and the people around them.”
Children can alternatively make an appointment via the national booking system to visit a vaccination centre. Some 140,000 children have made appointments to book their vaccine over the next few weeks, NHS England said.
Prof Adam Finn, a paediatrician who is a member of the UK vaccine expert group the JCVI, said vaccinating teenagers would “minimise the chance of disruption to education, which is really the major harm that the pandemic has done to our children”.
But he told BBC Breakfast it would also increase the overall levels of immunity in the population, helping to reduce the spread of the virus.
With the US Food and Drug Administration having approved the Pfizer vaccine for five to 11-year-olds, Prof Finn said the UK and EU were likely to follow suit. But he said a decision on whether the vaccine would be given out to younger children would depend on whether it is necessary at that moment in the pandemic.
Dr Nikki Kanani, the deputy lead for the NHS COVID-19 vaccine programme, said efforts to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds “will not stop”.
Dr Kanani, who also works as a GP, added: “It’s really important that we continue with the same enthusiasm if we want to ensure children get to stay in the classroom with their fellow pupils this winter, and so I encourage all parents and guardians to head online and read the information on vaccinating your child, so you can make an informed decision.”
Pupils are also being urged to get tested for coronavirus before returning to school to reduce disruption to lessons. Since the end of September, there has been a rise in the number of daily confirmed cases.
Across the UK, a further 41,278 positive cases were announced on Saturday, and the seven-day average remains above 40,000 cases. Most areas in England have more than 400 cases per 100,000 people.