Schoolchildren urged to get vaccinated as one in 15 catch Covid in a week

11 October 2021, 20:48

Sajid Javid and Nadhim Zahawi have urged parents to get their children vaccinated as school absences soar
Sajid Javid and Nadhim Zahawi have urged parents to get their children vaccinated as school absences soar. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Ministers have urged parents to get their children vaccinated against Covid-19 after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that one in 15 pupils caught the virus in a week.

The data suggests that around one in 15 children in years 7 to 11 in England had Covid-19 in the week to October 2.

It means that in a standard class of 30 pupils, on average two students had the virus in the week studied.

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In a joint letter to parents of secondary school and college pupils, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi and Health Secretary Sajid Javid have said "vaccines are our best defence".

As well as asking students to "come forward" for the jab to ensure face-to-face lessons can continue, Mr Zahawi and Mr Javid also asked for parents' "support" to encourage their children to test themselves for Covid twice a week.

"This is one of the best things young people can do to protect themselves and those around them," the letter said.

"Vaccines are our best defence against Covid-19.

"They help protect young people, and benefit those around them.

"Vaccination makes people less likely to catch the virus and less likely to pass it on."

There have been growing concerns about the rollout of Covid jabs to 12 to 15-year-olds in schools.

Three million pupils of this age are eligible for a first vaccine, but provisional data from the Government's coronavirus dashboard suggests just 11.7 per cent had been vaccinated by October 10 - three weeks into the rollout.

A school leaders union has said headteachers are "increasingly frustrated" about the delays at a time of rising pupil absences, with the Department for Education estimating more than 204,000 students were absent from school for coronavirus-related reasons on September 30 - around 2.5 per cent of all pupils, and an increase of two thirds in a fortnight.

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"We welcome the intervention of the Education Secretary in encouraging take-up of Covid vaccinations, and indeed anything else that can be done to boost this crucial programme," said Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leavers (ASCL).

"However, school leaders are increasingly frustrated about delays to the rollout of coronavirus vaccinations.

"There appear to be logistical issues around the capacity of health teams to deliver vaccinations at the speed and scale required.

He said that the "urgency" of the programme was evident in the high number of pupil absences, noting that many schools were also experiencing teacher shortages as a result of staff catching the virus, and called on the Government to "do everything possible" to support the vaccination programme and keep education disruption to a minimum.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of schools union NAHT, said children were missing their vaccination appointments because they were catching Covid, and pushed for more measures such as increased ventilation to be introduced in schools to curb the spread of the virus.

"If [pupils] are off sick they miss vaccination slots at school - and they cannot be jabbed while they are ill anyway - there is a 28-day waiting period before a child who has had Covid can then have the vaccine," said Mr Whiteman.

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In Scotland the vaccine rollout to secondary school students has proved more successful so far, with almost a third of students having received a jab.

The success may be partly down to the fact that, in Scotland, students can go to drop-in vaccination clinics, whereas in England the jabs are delivered mainly within the schools themselves.

The ASCL said it would support the use of walk-in centres in England if it would help to "boost take-up and speed of delivery" of vaccines among the age group.

"If walk-in centres would help to boost take-up and speed of delivery we would very much welcome that," said Mr Barton.

An NHS spokesperson said: "In just a few weeks, hundreds of schools have already held vaccination clinics, with almost 200,000 children aged 12-15 already protected.

"As the rollout continues, local providers are continuing to contact schools and working with parents to agree consent so they can organise a visit."