Coronavirus jab for children is 'up to parents to decide', say headteachers
- Credit: Archant
Parents should be left to decide whether their children have the coronavirus jab, headteachers have said - after the UK's chief medical officers recommended 12 to 15-year-olds get vaccinated.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) previously said that Covid-19 presents a very low risk for healthy children and that vaccination would only offer a marginal benefit.
But the chief medical officers have now recommended that 12 to 15-year-olds are offered a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on “public health grounds”.
They added that it was “likely vaccination will help reduce transmission of Covid-19 in schools”.
Experts welcomed the move as a "good decision" and said it would reduce disruption to children's education, even if the medical benefits of the jab for children are marginal.
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Simon Martin, headteacher at Debenham High School, also said: "We're very much pleased all children are back in school but there are members of staff who are more vulnerable or might be more nervous about being exposed to the virus.
"If it's something that reduces the chance of other people catching it, that can only be a good thing."
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Yet while he said Debenham High would happily administer delivery of the jab, as it has for previous vaccines, he said: "It is up to parents to decide whether it is worth it.
"Parents will have to read the advice and information, and make a decision as to whether it is right for their children."
Copleston High School principal Andy Green said he is confident the recommendation has been based on the best scientific and medical advice.
But he added: "We can't tell parents whether their children should have the vaccine.
"It's parents who have to make the final decision, based on the evidence they've got. They have every right to make that decision.
"If the government asks schools to become centres for vaccinations, as we have been for TB jabs for many years, we'd obviously support whatever we're asked to do."
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said it had received the chief medical officers' advice and "will set out the government’s decision shortly”.
An online poll for the Ipswich Star showed a 50-50 split on whether children aged between 12 and 15 should be offered the vaccine.
Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said the watchdog's research shows that "young people have mixed opinions about vaccination acceptance".
Yet although he said "some young people are hesitant about having a Covid jab", he added: "It is clear many will welcome the opportunity to obtain protection from the virus if it is offered to them.
"This includes, for example, the 32% of young people who indicated to us they wanted the vaccine to protect others around them (for example, vulnerable family members) and those young people who feel they have missed out on important opportunities in their education because of Covid restrictions and school closures.
"The latter might also be a welcome benefit amongst parents and guardians who have also faced significant challenges to their wellbeing because of home schooling arrangements.
“We see emerging evidence that particular groups of young people may be more likely to avoid vaccination if it is offered to them and this highlights the need to ensure young people, and those around them, are supported to make an informed choice about having a jab."
One young person involved in the Youthwatch Suffolk scheme said: "As a young person who has been recently vaccinated, I feel vaccination of young people and their education has a correlation.
"Many students have missed out on significantly life-changing years of their education due to Covid.
"Therefore, I believe more young people should be encouraged to get vaccinated. Young people are eagerly looking forward to being vaccinated because we don't want to be pushed behind socially un-interactive screens any longer.”
Former Suffolk headteacher Geoff Barton added: “It is very important that the government is really clear that our members are not going to be in any way making decisions about consent and all of that kind of stuff.”
The former headteacher of King Edward VI School, in Bury St Edmunds, has also warned that schools are receiving "extremely unhelpful" letters from pressure groups which threaten legal action if they take part in any Covid vaccine programme.
Mr Barton, currently general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "We would ask those involved in this correspondence to stop attempting to exert pressure on schools and colleges.
“The question of whether or not to offer vaccinations to this age group has clearly been thoroughly considered and the decision on whether or not to accept this offer is a matter for families.”