Covid Scotland: Coronavirus vaccine should be given to 12 to 15-year-olds, say health chiefs
Education unions and young people’s groups have declared schools will be made safer after the UK’s chief medical officers recommended that healthy children aged between 12 and 15 should be offered one Covid vaccine dose.
Industry groups said the roll-out would help mitigate against disruption to education, echoing the advice of the UK’s four chief medical officers [CMOs], who considered the wider benefit of vaccination of teenagers.
The Scottish Government will make an announcement after considering the CMOs’ advice. However, it has previously indicated it would be in favour of vaccinating teenagers.
The recommendation comes after the government’s vaccine committee, the JCVI, said there was not enough benefit to warrant the move on health grounds only.
The JCVI said ministers could take into account other factors, including education, when making a decision. Currently only children aged 12-plus with high-risk health problems have been given the vaccine.
The recommendation from CMOs was released as Scotland recorded another 4,241 new positive Covid cases in the 24 hours to Monday, but no new deaths.
Teaching union the EIS said it had seen “record levels” of both pupil and staff Covid-related absences as schools have returned.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The EIS welcomes this decision by the CMOs as the latest step in the battle against coronavirus. Offering the vaccine to young people in the 12 to 15 age group will make secondary schools safer by reducing the risk of the virus spreading through school communities and will help reduce the level of disruption to education.
"Whilst we know that young people are less likely to become hospitalised through Covid, offering the vaccine will offer important additional protection against the virus.”
Mr Flanagan added: “In the few short weeks since our schools returned after the summer, we have already seen significant outbreaks in some school communities. This has led to an increase in enforced absences from school, with record numbers of students and staff forced to stay at home due to coronavirus.
"Rolling out the availability of the vaccines to a wider group of young people will reduce the risk of further outbreaks linked to schools and help ensure that education provision can continue on as normal a basis as possible.”
Covid-related absences from school surged last week, with figures revealing 38,361 pupils were not in classrooms last Tuesday in a sign of the impact on attendance.
Bruce Adamson, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, said it was important to give teenagers the choice of vaccination.
“Children and young people have a right to the best possible health,” he said.
“That’s not just about protection from the Covid virus itself, but also the impact on their mental health due to isolation and other factors.
"The pandemic has impacted their right to education, their right to play, their right to see wider family and friends, which is so essential to their development. Their education has been disrupted with two long periods of school closures.
“It is important that children are supported to make informed decisions about their own health. Children of this age group have told me over the last few months that they are in favour of having the choice to be vaccinated."
Mr Adamson added: “It is important that there is no stigma attached to the choices that children make about vaccination. It is essential that this advice is communicated directly to 12 to 15-year-olds in a child-friendly way so they can understand why they are now being offered the vaccine, and can have any questions they might have answered in a way they can understand.
"Children have the right to access appropriate information on decisions affecting them.”
Margaret Wilson, chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, said parents would be divided over the issue.
She said: “I think that if it lowers the risk of school transmission and absences, then that is an advantage.
"However, there will be some anxiety among parents. It is important that there is proper information available to allow parents to have a discussion with their young person about any potential risks.”
Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf thanked chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith and the other three CMOs for their advice recommending the universal offer of vaccination to 12-15-year-olds.
Mr Yousaf said: “On September 3, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised that whilst there were individual health benefits to vaccinating 12-15-year-olds, these were too marginal to recommend universal vaccination of this group. However, the committee suggested governments might want to seek further input from CMOs on the wider public health impact vaccination could have.
“Myself and the three other health ministers therefore commissioned the UK CMOs to look into this and, after consideration with clinical and public health leaders from all four nations, they have agreed the additional likely benefits of reducing educational disruption, in addition to the benefits identified by the JCVI, provide sufficient extra advantage to justify the offer of vaccination to this group.
“Health ministers are now considering this advice and we will make a decision as soon as possible.”
A statement from the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health said the body believed that vaccines should be rolled out to teenagers to help ensure a more normal life for them.
The college said: “We believe that vaccination could benefit healthy children, irrespective of any direct health benefit, in enabling them to have less interruption to school attendance, to allow them to mix more freely with their friends, to give more protection to friends and family members whose health may be at risk from the virus, and to help reduce the anxiety some children feel about Covid-19.
"Participation in activities inside and outside of school are key to children’s development, resilience, and mental health and wellbeing. We need to ensure that such participation returns to normal as a matter of urgency.”
However, the college said routine testing of children as contacts of a positive case should be stopped.
It said: “Instead, schoolchildren should be tested only if they have symptoms of Covid-19. At the same time, and as with other infections, they should not go to school if they are unwell.”
The organisation also said it would be against any plans to make vaccination mandatory for certain activities or events for under-18s.
The CMOs have asked for the JCVI now to consider whether second doses should be given to those aged 12 to 15 once more data comes through internationally, although this is not expected to happen before the first quarter of next year.
The UK’s CMOs said it was “likely vaccination will help reduce transmission of Covid-19 in schools”.
They said: “Covid-19 is a disease which can be very effectively transmitted by mass spreading events, especially with Delta variant. Having a significant proportion of pupils vaccinated is likely to reduce the probability of such events which are likely to cause local outbreaks in, or associated with, schools.
“They will also reduce the chance an individual child gets Covid-19. This means vaccination is likely to reduce (but not eliminate) education disruption.”
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