Health workers can decide whether children receive a Covid vaccine against their parents' wishes, according to government directives issued on Wednesday which haveleft some heads of establishment to fear demonstrations at the gates of the school.
The guidelines indicate that vaccinations for children aged 12 to 15 will be given by teams from the School Age Immunization Service (SAIS) who are already performing influenza and human papillomavirus (HPV vaccines) in England. The role of schools will be limited to providing a site and distributing information and consent forms to students and parents.
In cases where the parents refuse consent but the child wants to move on, the guidelines say that immunization teams will determine if the child is able to make an informed decision - known as the Gillick skill - and "make every effort to contact a parentnt to check before continuing ".
" If a parent objects to their child being vaccinated but the child wants to be vaccinated and is deemed competent for Gillick, the healthcare professional will try to reach an agreement between the parent and the child. However, the parent cannot overrule Gillick's competent child decision, ”the guidelines say. In this scenario, the child will be vaccinated.
In cases where the parents refuse consent and the child is not considered fit to Gillick or does not want to be vaccinated, the UK Health Safety Agency guidelines state that a vaccination will not be given.
According to the NHS, The Gillick skill , this is when children under the age of 16 "can consent to their own treatment if they are censured that you have sufficient intelligence, skill and understanding to fully appreciate what is involved in their treatment ”.
Some principals fear that parents opposed to vaccination try to contact their child's school directly, although the school has no role in the decision.
Jules White, the principal of Tanbridge House Secondary School in Sussex, said many of his fellow principals wanted to avoid getting caught up in conflicts between children and their families over this.
White said: "The guidelines appear to allow a child considered competent by Gillick to be vaccinated at a school site without permission from a parent or guardian. Although this decision is made by qualified professionals of the SAIS team, it leaves managers and other staff membersonnel from the school in a potentially very difficult position.
"In a situation where a problem like this arises, I would prefer the problem to be treated outside the school site - for example, at a general practitioner or at a local medical center. "
The guide also warns schools to prepare for protests or other disruption.
He says: " We know that some schools receive campaign letters and emails with misinformation about the immunization program and I would like some advice on how to handle the protests just in case they would take place at school.
"In the event of a demonstration or disruptive activity outside a school, or if the schools know that a demonstration is planned, they must alert the SAIS supplier, local authorities and the contacts of the police to discuss how best to handle the situation.
Chief medical officers across the UK decided this week to expand voluntary single doses of Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12 at age 15, after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization earlier said the benefits of age group vaccination were less certain than in older adolescents.
NHS foundations have started contacting schools to organize on-site immunization days, with some expecting to start seeking parental consent shortly. Schools will be able to combine Covid and flu vaccinations in one visit.
Geoff Barton, the secretary general of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he welcomed guidelines clarifying that legal responsibility for supplying vaccines rested with the school immunization service, after principals reported receiving letters from groups pressure.
"The guidelines make it clear that schools are not responsible for mediating between parents and children who may disagree on consent or not . This is the role of registered nurses in the immunization service for school-aged children, "Barton said.
" We are very concerned about the possibility of protests taking place outside of schools, and we are delighted to see that the guide makes reference to that and provides advice on how to respond to this threat. "