Vaccine roll-out: A third of parents say they will refuse permission

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

New guidance for schools over the 12 to 15-year-old vaccine roll-out comes as a survey shows that 37 per cent of parents plan to refuse permission for their children to receive the jab.

Young people aged 12 to 15 in England will be offered the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, the government confirmed on Monday (September 13).

The NHS is now preparing to deliver a schools-based vaccination programme, with invitations to begin next week, and the UK’s Health Security Agency has published guidance for schools (2021).

It comes amid reports that school leaders are receiving threatening letters from anti-vaccination groups and fears that some schools may face protests or “disruptive activity” surrounding the vaccination drive.

The government has been urged this week to communicate clearly to the public that headteachers are in no way involved with the vaccination process or the decision to offer vaccination in schools.

The new guidance, published on Wednesday (September 15), makes clear that schools are not legally accountable for the vaccination programme.

Parental, guardian or carer consent will be sought for the vaccination, in line with existing school vaccination programmes for HPV and diphtheria, tetanus and polio (DTP). The guidance confirms that the School Age Immunisation Service will take charge of the vaccination process including seeking parental consent “in the same way as for any other school vaccination programme” using a consent form and information leaflet.

The role of schools, according to the guidance, is simply to provide information to the health services about which children on roll are eligible, to share the information leaflet with families, and to provide space in the school for the vaccinations to take place.

The guidance also confirms that students whose parents have refused vaccination can still request the jab if they are considered by the healthcare professionals to be “Gillick competent” (see later). Pupils in year 7 who have turned 12 on or before the day of the School Age Immunisation Service visit can be vaccinated.

The guidance acknowledges that some schools have been receiving “campaign letters and emails with misinformation about the vaccine programme”. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) had already reported incidents of pressure groups threatening schools with legal action over the issue.

The guidance urges schools not to engage with misinformation campaigns and to work with the School Age Immunisation Service to ensure full security risk assessments are carried out. The guidance states: “In the event of a protest or disruptive activity outside a school, or if schools know a protest is planned, they should alert the School Age Immunisation Service provider, local authority and police contacts to discuss the best way to manage the situation.

The guidance emphasises: “Legal accountability for offering Covid-19 vaccines to children and young people sits with the SAIS and not with the school.”

Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary, has welcomed the guidance and clarification: “We had asked for the government to make this clear in its guidance because many of our members have been receiving letters from various pressure groups threatening schools and colleges with legal action if they take part in any Covid vaccination programme. We are pleased that the government has responded in this way and we would ask that these pressure groups cease this activity.

“It is also clear from the guidance that the role of schools will be limited to hosting these sessions and providing and sharing associated communications, with the vaccines administered by healthcare staff, as is normal with school-based vaccinations. The guidance is absolutely clear that schools are not responsible for mediating between parents and children who may disagree about whether or not to consent. This is the role of registered nurses in the School Age Immunisation Service.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at the NAHT, said: “We are hearing reports of threatening letters being sent to school leaders urging them not to allow their school buildings to be used for vaccination, but these letters are misguided – it is not school leaders’ decision to make, it is the government’s and the NHS. School leaders are being put in an invidious position, stuck between parents, pupils and pressure groups, all while simply working to carry out their national duty.”

Commenting on the guidance, he added: “We are pleased to see that the government has made it very clear that while vaccination teams might make use of school buildings, the responsibility, including legal responsibility, for delivering jabs will sit entirely with the appropriate medical teams. This should help keep disruption in schools to a minimum. It’s very important that parents now direct any questions or concerns to the vaccination teams via the number provided so that school leaders can focus on the education of pupils.”

Despite the government’s intervention, Mr Barton is still “very concerned” about the possibility of protests. He added: “Frankly, it is a sorry state of affairs if any individuals or groups think it is helpful in any way to stage a protest outside a school over a vaccine programme which is designed to help reduce educational disruption and which seems to us to be in the best interests of children and young people. We implore people not to stage such protests.”

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has already advised that vulnerable 12 to 15-year-olds should be offered vaccination and, in light of the spread of the Delta variant, that all 16 and 17-year-olds should be given their first dose too.

The decision to expand vaccination to all 12 to 15-year-olds was taken on Monday, when health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said: “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.”

Meanwhile, the parent survey, which was conducted by charity Parentkind between September 7 and 13, found that while 55 per cent of parents will approve the jab for their 12 to 15-year-old child, 37 per cent will not. Nine per cent said they were undecided.

But the uncertainty does not appear to be linked to parental vaccine hesitancy, with 77 per cent of the respondents indicating that they themselves have been jabbed and only 16 per cent saying they have not been.

Currently, more than four in five adults across the UK have received both Covid-19 vaccine doses, with more than half of all 16 and 17-year-olds also having had a first jab.

In a statement on September 3, Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of Covid-19 Immunisation for the JCVI, said: “For otherwise healthy 12 to 15-year-old children, their risk of severe Covid-19 disease is small and therefore the potential for benefit from Covid-19 vaccination is also small. The JCVI’s view is that overall, the health benefits from Covid-19 vaccination to healthy children aged 12 to 15 years are marginally greater than the potential harms.”

When it came to parents of 16 and 17-year-olds already eligible for vaccinations, 73 per cent of parents in the poll said their child had either been vaccinated or had booked an appointment, whereas 28 per cent said their 16 or 17-year-old had not been vaccinated and did not intend to be.

Elsewhere, there had been question marks over whether students aged 12 to 15 would be able to opt for the vaccine against their parents’ wishes.

The new guidance clarifies this: “Young people who understand fully what is involved in a proposed procedure, such as vaccination, can legally give consent. This is known as ‘Gillick competence’. If no consent from a parent has been received, but the child wants to be vaccinated and is judged to be Gillick competent by the healthcare professional, the child can still be vaccinated. In this case, the healthcare professional will make every effort to contact a parent to check before they proceed.”


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