Pupils at a school in Dagenham, east London, queue up for Covid tests after returning in March (file photo) (Image: PA)
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The government is considering the idea of mass vaccination drives for pupils in their school buildings if jabs for teenagers get the go-ahead.
Sources told the Mirror there are “live” talks about whether to jab under-18s on school grounds so they don’t have to visit a centre at a GP or hospital.
The move – which union chiefs are set to encourage at a meeting tomorrow – could relieve pressure on parents by saving them a trip to a vaccination centre.
But expert advice could scupper the idea, after reports the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) will say more data is needed before vaccinating children.
The committee is due to issue a statement as soon as this week after members voiced ethical concerns about vaccinating children to protect the rest of society, according to the Telegraph.
Despite the reports, Whitehall sources today said the idea of vaccinating over-12s was still live. They stressed ministers had no advice from the JCVI yet and did not know what that advice will be.
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A senior government source said: “Vaccines save lives. The Pfizer vaccine has been licensed for 12-15 year olds by the MHRA and a number of countries will be vaccinating children in those age groups.
“Ministers have not received advice and no decisions have been taken.”
It comes after a government source told the Mirror “there’s a discussion to be had” about having vaccinations done for children aged 12 to 17 on school grounds, saying it is a “live” issue.
The source pointed out getting parents’ consent for testing had already been easier than some predicted, so consent for vaccines would not be a huge step further.
But there is also an argument for using the existing infrastructure of vaccine centres and no decisions have been taken, the source added.
A second government source said there is no formal proposal at this stage but added: “There is operational planning going on”.
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However, they suggested the August school holidays would be a hurdle to any plan to use school buildings, as that has been a time mooted for when children’s vaccinations could begin.
“When you do it is also important. Do you do it before school starts or when is going on?” the Whitehall source said.
Four major unions have already urged the government to give schools support to let teenagers be vaccinated on-site.
A joint statement by UNISON, GMB, Unite and the National Education Union last week said: “Schools and colleges must be given the right support and resources to enable pupils to be vaccinated on site.”
GMB National Officer Avril Chambers said today: "Pupils should be offered the vaccine, as is already happening in many other countries, as soon as the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) gives its approval.
“Schools and colleges must be given the right support and resources to enable pupils to be vaccinated on site.
“GMB intends to raise this at the Permanent Secretary Stakeholder group meeting on the 17th June."
UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards said: "If scientists decide the vaccine is safe for pupils and introducing jabs to secondary schools will be effective in combating the virus, the government must get the ball rolling.”
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss today said “the Government will look very closely at the JCVI's recommendations” on whether to vaccinate children.
She added: “It is my understanding that they are not recommending the vaccination of under-18s and we will be saying more in due course about that."
But Downing Street insisted no advice had yet been received on kids’ jabs and there was no decision.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The advice would come from JCVI in the first instance, and they haven’t made any comments on that at this stage.
“We wait on that and we have constantly followed the JCVI advice on prioritisation.”
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) authorised the safe use of the Pfizer vaccine in children aged 12 to 17 earlier this month.
But the final decision cannot be made until the JCVI gives advice to the government.
Because children rarely fall seriously ill with Covid, officials have been weighing up the trade-offs between how a rollout would protect society more widely, compared to the risk of any rare side-effects from the jab.