Vaccine chief hints at North East children being offered covid jabs outside school

North East children could soon be offered Covid-19 vaccinations outside of schools, a health boss has hinted.

Thursday, 14th October 2021, 11:23 am
Updated Thursday, 14th October 2021, 12:44 pm
Professor Neil Watson. Mass Covid-19 vaccinations begin today at the Centre for Life in Newcastle. The Centre for Life is one of seven mass vaccination sites set to open this week.

Jabs for 12 to 15-year-olds in England are currently being conducted in schools only, alongside flu vaccinations.

But Professor Neil Watson, who runs the Covid Vaccination Programme in the North East, has said that could soon change – and that a potential expansion of the vaccine offer “will become more apparent in the coming days”.

It could mean that youngsters who missed out on receiving a dose when their school was visited, through absence or because immunisers did not have time to reach every child, could be allowed to attend large vaccination centres, pharmacies, or other locations that run jab clinics.

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Professor Watson said that the extra offer would also pick up children who want to receive the vaccine but whose parents have not consented.

Parental approval is currently required in every North East school for 12 to 15-year-olds to get a Covid vaccine, even though national policy is that a child can overrule their parents if they are judged competent enough to make the decision themselves.

Professor Watson said: “We have always been keen to offer the public choice on where they can get the vaccine.

"We have had a huge amount of access, whether through community pharmacies, primary care networks, vaccination centres, or the hospitals themselves.

“We are hoping that degree of flexibility will appear for children as well.”

Professor Watson said that there had already been a number of schools where vaccination teams had run out of time to deliver both Covid and flu jabs to all eligible pupils, leaving out entire year groups and even completely missing a couple of schools as a result.

The health chief said that school immunisation teams had “absolutely” received extra resources as a result of the huge extra workload placed on them, but that it was still an “extraordinarily tall ask”.

He added: “It is not surprising that as they move through the schools there are some schools and some year groups who need following up with.

“What we have been really pleased about is the level of uptake, which is actually much greater than our comparator countries around the world.”

The North East vaccine programme’s chief operating officer said that the decision to insist on parental consent for jabs in schools was taken “on a really practical basis” in order to avoid further delays to the rollout caused by having to hold assessments to judge whether children met the criteria to competently make their own choice, known as Gillick competence.