Prof Chris Whitty, the lead CMO for the UK, said it was a "difficult decision" but it could be an "important and useful tool" in reducing school disruption in the coming months - and when combined with the marginal health benefit identified by vaccine advisory body the JCVI, it meant offering a COVID vaccine to all children was appropriate.
We know schools are being approached about facilitating the roll out of the vaccination programme to your pupils on your premises and that there are strong views on both sides of the arguments about whether this is appropriate.
Whilst many parents and pupils will agree to the vaccination, we already know that there will be those who will not. Many schools may already have had correspondence from concerned parents. There are also some very well publicised campaigns against vaccination in schools which are inviting parents to challenge vaccinations in schools which appear to be gaining momentum, together with a crowd funded legal case against the Government.
Schools may also face challenge from parents who are simply not convinced by the reported health benefits it may provide to their individual child.
The UK Health and Security Agency has now published COVID-19 vaccination: resources for schools which includes the guidance: COVID-19 vaccination programme for children and young people: guidance for schools and a template invitation letter for eligible school children.
Public Health England has now published its 'promotional material', COVID-19 vaccination: a guide for eligible children and young people aged 12 to 17 and consent forms for children, young people or parents and carers.
We have also answered some FAQs surrounding the rollout of the vaccination programme in schools.
The issue of consent is likely to be central to concerns schools may have.
The PHE's information for eligible school children states:
"You will probably want to share information about the vaccine with your parents and discuss it together.
If you are being offered the vaccination at school, you may be given a consent form that your parent or guardian should sign giving permission for you to have the vaccination.
The nurse or GP will discuss the COVID-19 vaccine with you at your appointment and will be able to answer any questions you may have."
If a decision is made to facilitate the vaccination roll out at your school, it may be helpful to encourage pupils to discuss their views and engage with the PHE information in advance. The NHS has also published some FAQs which may also assist discussions together with the information within the Green Book on consent to vaccination.
It will be for the medical practitioner administering the vaccination to assess whether it is appropriate for that individual pupil to have the vaccination and that they are competent to consent to do so. Where there is conflict between pupils and parents, it will be for them to seek to resolve this.
However, we appreciate that it is not likely to be as clear cut as this in practice as schools may be asked by their local School Age Immunisation Service (SAIS) team to collect consent forms on their behalf. It is important therefore to ascertain what role the school is expected to play in the process - this may also include, sharing leaflets and information, signposting parents and children to official sources of information on vaccines and sending out email links, letters and reminders.
We are here to help schools to navigate the difficult path when faced with challenges or conflicts, in order to provide practical advice mitigate the risks of challenges, complaints and claims.
Many schools are also concerned about the extent to which they are able to request and share information about individuals' COVID vaccination status.
There are many sound practical reasons for doing so, and in most cases such information can be legally shared as long as the correct safeguards are in place to do so.
The ICO guidance sets out that if there is a good reason for collecting and using people’s COVID vaccination status, it is likely there would be an appropriate lawful basis for processing the information. The reasons for the collection and use of the information must, however, be clear and defined, transparent and stored securely. Although the Government talks about consent to share this information, this is often not the most appropriate or helpful basis for sharing.
However, we envisage that some schools may face challenges from staff or parents in relation to this issue and so it is important that schools record their reasons for this with reference to the appropriate justifications. Schools may wish to consider having separate specific privacy notices and additional confidentially assurances in place.