[Updated] The government has announced that all children aged 12 to 15 will be offered the first dose of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination this Autumn, and their second dose no sooner than 12 weeks later. Our article breaks down what schools need to know about the vaccination programme.

  1. [Updated] All children aged 12 to 15 are being offered the first and second dose of the vaccine
  2. Vaccines will be administered in schools
  3. Consent will be sought from parents
  4. Schools need to work with their SAIS provider
  5. School should ensure they are prepared to respond to any concerns about the vaccine programme

[Updated] All children aged 12 to 15 are being offered the first and second dose of the vaccine

 

[Updated] Since August 2021, all young people aged 16 and 17 have been offered the first and second dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Those aged 12 to 17 who are at increased risk from infection, or who are living with someone who is immunosuppressed, were also offered two doses of the vaccine, eight weeks apart.

[Updated] In the Autumn term 2021, all children aged 12 to 15 were offered a first dose of the vaccine as part of the school-based COVID-19 vaccination programme. It was announced in November 2021 that children aged 12 to 15 will be offered a second dose of the vaccine, no sooner than 12 weeks after the first dose. The NHS is currently working on plans for how this will be offered – we will update this article when more information is available. The latest advice for schools states that the intent is to have the vaccine on offer through schools as well as at local vaccination sites, to allow parents to accompany their child if they wish.

 

Vaccines will be administered in schools

 

The vaccines will be administered by healthcare staff working closely with the school, following the standard approach to school-based immunisation. It is expected that vaccinations will primarily be delivered in schools; however, there may be certain areas or schools where this is not possible.

The School Immunisation Service (SAIS) will be the primary provider of the vaccination programme for healthy children in this age group. Schools’ local SAIS provider teams will get in touch to agree a date for the vaccination session and the best approach for implementing the programme in the school.

The SAIS provider will vaccinate all children aged 12 and over on the day they visit the school to deliver vaccination. A follow-up offer will be made to any children who miss the first vaccination in their school, e.g. those who turn 12 after the session, which will likely be delivered outside of school settings to minimise any further disruption.

16 and 17-year-olds are already being offered the vaccine through the adult vaccination programme; however, some SAIS providers may have the capacity to offer the vaccination to these pupils in school who have not taken up their first dose yet. SAIS providers will tell schools in their area if they are able to offer this.

 

Consent will be sought from parents

 

It is not mandatory for children to have the vaccine. The SAIS provider will seek consent from the parents, or person with parental responsibility, of children aged 12 to 15 via a consent form and information leaflet. Parents will also be given a contact number for the SAIS that they can use if they have any queries.

Schools may be asked to collect consent forms from parents on behalf of the SAIS provider, or it may be done electronically.

Some older children may be sufficiently competent to provide their own consent. This sometimes occurs if a parent has not returned a consent form, but the child still wishes to have the vaccine on the day of the session. Every effort will be made to contact the parent to seek their verbal consent. If a parent objects to their child being vaccinated but the child wants to be vaccinated and they are deemed to be competent (known as ‘Gillick competence’) to provide their own consent by the healthcare professional, the healthcare professional will try to reach an agreement between the parent and child; however, the parent cannot overrule the decision of a Gillick-competent child. In practice, it would be extremely unusual for a child under 13 to be judged Gillick-competent.

The SAIS team will assess the individual child’s capacity to self-consent and be responsible for deciding the appropriateness of administering the vaccine. Schools have no role in this process.

 

Schools need to work with their SAIS provider

 

Schools will have three primary roles in the vaccination programme, which should be familiar to them from other school vaccination programmes:

  1. To provide information to their SAIS provider on which pupils on the school roll are eligible for the vaccine.
  2. To share the information leaflet, consent form and invitation letter from the SAIS team with parents and pupils.
  3. To provide the space within school, and the time away from the usual school timetable, to allow vaccinations to take place.

Schools will also be asked to:

  • Work with the SAIS provider team to agree the best approach for implementing the programme in their school.
  • Nominate a named contact for the SAIS provider team to contact.
  • Agree the date(s) for the vaccination session(s).
  • Work with the SAIS provider team to identify a suitable location for vaccinations to be delivered and for the 15-minute post-vaccination observation to take place – the post-vaccination observation will be undertaken by a member of the SAIS provider team.
  • Agree how to provide parents with the invitation letter, information leaflet and consent form.
  • Encourage pupils and parents to return the consent form by an agreed date, and send reminders via their usual channels, e.g. parent newsletters.
  • Tell parents when the vaccinations will take place and let pupils know what will happen and when.

 

Schools should ensure they are prepared to respond to any concerns about the vaccine programme

 

If parents refuse to send their children to school due to concerns about the vaccine, schools should reassure them that if a child does not have parental consent and does not want to get vaccinated, they will not receive the vaccine. If parents have questions about whether to provide consent, schools should direct them to the local SAIS provider – contact details are included on the consent form that will be given to parents.

The government has recognised that some schools are receiving campaign letters and emails with misinformation about the vaccination programme. Schools have been advised to:

  • Not engage directly with this type of communication.
  • Only acknowledge the receipt of such communication if a response is necessary.
  • If there is a need to, refer to the latest scientific guidance on the issue.

The government has also provided some advice on what to do if a protest were to take place at the school. The SAIS team will have advice from the NHS COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment Programme about running this programme securely. Schools should contact the SAIS team to understand what security planning they have in place, and what actions they recommend the school undertakes before vaccinations take place. Schools should also ensure the measures in their existing security policies and risk assessments are implemented. If a protest or other disruptive activity takes place at a school, or if a school knows such activities have been planned, they should alert the SAIS provider, LA and the police.

 

Next steps

 

  • Find out more about the vaccination programme in schools and view the SAIS consent form here.
  • Add this page to your ‘Watch list’ to be notified of any further announcements regarding the vaccination programme.

[New] DfE (2021) ‘Vaccinations in Schools – Good Practice ‘How to Guide’’

UK Health Security Agency (2021) ‘COVID-19 vaccination programme for children and young people: guidance for schools’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-vaccination-resources-for-schools> [Accessed: 1 December 2021]

[New] UK Health Security Agency (2021) ‘JCVI advice on COVID-19 booster vaccines for those aged 18-39 and a second dose for ages 12 to 15’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/news/jcvi-advice-on-covid-19-booster-vaccines-for-those-aged-18-to-39-and-a-second-dose-for-ages-12-to-15> [Accessed: 1 December 2021]