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The NHS has started to roll out the COVID-19 jab to school children aged 12 to 15, as part of the biggest vaccination drive in health service history.
Almost three million children in this age group are eligible for one dose of the Pfizer vaccine following the government’s acceptance of the UK Chief Medical Officers’ recommendation.
Jabs will start in hundreds of schools across the country this week with the NHS vaccination programme rolling out to others in the coming weeks.
Like the flu and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, COVID-19 jabs will be delivered by local school age immunisation services (SAIS) who will work closely with schools to identify all eligible children.
In line with standard practice for vaccinations in schools, consent letters are being sent out to parents and guardians with information on the COVID-19 vaccination.
Families do not need to contact the NHS to arrange their child’s vaccine, schools and providers will be in touch.
Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and Deputy Lead for the NHS COVID-19 vaccination programme, said: “Alongside one of our busiest summers, NHS staff have been working closely with schools to ensure they are ready to deliver the vaccine to children aged 12 to 15 who are now eligible.
“Following the decision by government, and building on the success of the NHS COVID-19 vaccination programme which has delivered over 77 million vaccinations, the NHS will now roll out to hundreds of schools over the next few days.
“The vaccine is safe and effective and I would urge families to work closely with their schools based vaccination team to get their loved ones vaccinated when they are invited to protect themselves and their families ahead of the winter period”.
There are around 60 school age immunisation services across the country with teams made up of clinical staff such as paediatric nurses and school nurses.
Staff are working hard to offer vaccinations to all children in this age group in the majority of schools before October half term.
Children aged 12 to 15 with health conditions that put them at increased risk from COVID, as well as those who live with someone who is immunosuppressed, are already being invited for a lifesaving COVID jab and are eligible for two doses of Pfizer.
More than 77 million vaccinations have been delivered since the NHS in England made history when Margaret Keenan received the first jab outside of a clinical trial in Coventry, in December 2020.
Last week was another landmark moment for the NHS as staff and volunteers pulled out all the stops to launch the autumn booster programme, with the first booster jabs in arms less than 48 hours after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) set out new guidance.
Jack Lane, 14, was one of the first to be vaccinated in England, as part of the extended rollout. After having his vaccine in Leigh-On-Sea this morning Jack said: “I am proud to have had my vaccination so that I can remain in school and continue in my education – the jab was quick, easy, and painless”.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “It’s encouraging to see 12 to 15 year olds starting to get their vaccinations today – reflecting our ongoing commitment to protect young people from COVID-19 and minimise any disruption to their education.
“The vaccine has made a significant difference in saving lives and reducing transmissions, and has met the strict standards of safety and effectiveness of our renowned medicines regulator for those aged 12 and over.
“Today is the culmination of the fantastic preparation work the NHS has put in place to ensure vaccines can be given as safely and quickly as possible”.
Alternative arrangements will be made to ensure those not in school are vaccinated, including those who are home schooled or in secure services.
The largest and most successful vaccination programme in NHS history continues, with more than 40 million people now having had at least one dose, and well over 36 million people fully vaccinated against COVID having received two doses.
The NHS has been planning for the roll out to all healthy 12 to 15 year olds so that staff could extend its rollout as quickly as possible in line with advice.
The school aged flu vaccine has been extended this year so that as well as children in primary school and year 7, it will now be offered to those in years 8 to 11, meaning that most secondary school aged children will be eligible for both the flu and COVID-19 vaccine this winter, to protect themselves and those around them.
Children and young people in this new cohort will be offered a single dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “The rollout of the vaccine to those aged 12 to 15 is another significant step in building the walls of protection from the virus across society.
“The NHS has done a tremendous job in delivering vaccinations to date, and as we rollout vaccines to young people, school immunisation teams will answer questions and provide information to help families decide.
“School leaders and staff can be reassured that they will not be responsible for any clinical aspect of the delivery of the programme, and whatever decision teenagers and parents take, they must be supported and not stigmatised in any way. We must continue to respect individual choice”.
Vaccines Minister Maggie Throup said: “Today marks another major milestone in the amazing vaccine rollout with all 12 to 15 year olds now being offered a vaccine.
“I want to thank the NHS for working at pace to deliver on this latest phase of the rollout and I urge everyone of all ages to get your vaccine as soon as possible”.