Schoolchildren aged between 12 and 15 years will be offered a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine starting next week, the UK government has announced after the country’s Chief Medical Officers gave their go-ahead for the jabs for younger age groups.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said on Monday evening that ministers have accepted the advice of the four UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) and the National Health Service (NHS) is now preparing to deliver a schools-based vaccination programme.
This will be based on what the NHS says is their "successful model" used for vaccinations including for HPV and Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP), supported by general practitioners (GPs) and community pharmacies.
“I have accepted the recommendation from the Chief Medical Officers to expand vaccination to those aged 12 to 15 – protecting young people from catching COVID-19, reducing transmission in schools and keeping pupils in the classroom,” said UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
“I am very grateful for the expert advice I have received from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and UK Chief Medical Officers. Our outstanding NHS stands ready to move forward with rolling out the vaccine to this group with the same sense of urgency we've had at every point in our vaccination programme,” he said.
Parental, guardian or carer consent will be sought by vaccination healthcare staff prior to vaccination in line with existing school vaccination programmes. Healthy school-aged children aged 12 to 15 years will primarily receive their COVID-19 vaccination in their school with alternative provision for those who are home schooled, in secure services or specialist mental health settings.
Under 16s are not automatically presumed to be legally competent to make decisions about their healthcare and, therefore, whether they should be given the COVID-19 vaccine.
However, the UK courts have stated that under 16s will be competent to give valid consent to a particular intervention if they have “sufficient understanding and intelligence to understand fully what is proposed”, referred to as the Gillick competence. The DHSC said that the Gillick test provides that if a child under the age of 16 has sufficient understanding and intelligence to understand what is being proposed, care and treatment can be provided without parental consent. If a child is deemed as not competent to give consent for themselves, consent should be sought from a person with parental responsibility for COVID vaccines.
The DHSC said that in line with the recommendation of the independent JCVI, the government had sought the views of the four UK CMOs on the wider issues that are relevant to the health of children. On Monday, the CMOs confirmed their decision in favour of vaccination of younger age groups – expanding the rollout from the current 16 years and above criteria for COVID vaccines in the UK.
According to official NHS data, over four in five adults across the UK have received both COVID-19 vaccine doses, with over half of all 16 and 17 year olds coming forward for their first jab.
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