Not too late for back-to-school Covid jabs if experts approve them, says Downing Street

It is not too late for children aged under 16 to be vaccinated for Covid-19 as they return to school this autumn if the government’s expert advisers give the green light, Downing Street has said.

Medical watchdog the MHRA cleared the Pfizer vaccine as safe for 12-15 year olds in June and this month gave the thumbs-up to the Moderna jab, but the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is yet to give its approval to a rollout for under-16s.

NHS England last week wrote to health trusts to ask them to confirm plans to roll out the vaccine to this group by November if the jabs are approved. Downing Street said then that it was hoping for a JCVI decision “as soon as possible”.

Once clearance is received, schools are expected to set up on-site vaccination venues in gyms and assembly halls or make arrangements for children to take time out of lessons to travel to medical sites where they can get their inoculation.

Schools in most parts of England are reopening for the autumn term over the next few days, though lessons began last week in Leicestershire.

But asked if this meant that it was too late to arrange a vaccination drive to coincide with the return to school, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said: “No, it doesn’t mean that. It means that the JCVI as an independent body are still considering what they believe is the right advice and the right recommendation.

“We will, as we have throughout, act on the clinical advice.”

The spokesperson indicated that preparations have already been made with schools and health authorities to get vaccinations going quickly as soon as the JCVI approval is received.

What we have sought to do is ensure that, should the JCVI make a decision that is suitable to vaccinate younger children, then the NHS and schools are in a position to move as soon as possible.”

The rate of vaccination of 12-15 year-olds will depend on arrangements in different areas, but the government wants to ensure that “there are no barriers to that happening should we receive that clinical advice,” said the spokesperson.

Schools have been told that there is no need for “bubbles” of pupils to be sent home if one tests for coronavirus this term and the government is not requiring the use of masks in lessons.

But there has been controversy over the decision to ask parents to ensure their children test regularly for Covid at home, after receiving initial school-based tests at the start of term.

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