Headteachers have been told to call the police if anti-vaxxers plan protests outside the school gates, as the NHS said all children aged 12- to 15-years-old should receive their Covid-19 jab by half term.
On Monday, the Government accepted the advice from the UK’s four chief medical officers to offer this cohort one dose, after they ruled it would be a “potentially useful tool” to “reduce educational disruption”.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has now issued guidance to headteachers who believe protests could be held outside their school over participation in the Covid-19 vaccination programme, advising them to contact police to help manage the situation.
The agency said it was aware some schools have been receiving campaign letters and emails with “misinformation” about the vaccine programme, after ministers confirmed the rollout.
Three million 12- to 15-year-olds across the UK will be eligible, and the programme is expected to be delivered primarily within schools.
New guidance issued
In new guidance, the agency said it knew of schools seeking advice on how to handle protests, and suggested they get in touch with the School Aged Immunisation Service (SAIS) team at the “first opportunity” to understand “what security planning they have in place”.
“In the event of a protest or disruptive activity outside a school, or if schools know a protest is planned, they should alert the SAIS provider, local authority and police contacts to discuss the best way to manage the situation,” the guidance added.
Heads and teachers have also been advised “not to engage directly” with misinformation campaigns about the vaccine, but should “acknowledge receipt of concerns” and “refer to the latest scientific guidance on the issue” if necessary.
It comes as NHS England said its objective was to vaccinate children as “quickly as is safe and practical, with the majority of school visits completed and vaccinations administered before October half term”.
Any child who hasn’t received their dose within those five weeks should have the date of their vaccination confirmed, a letter sent on Wednesday to providers stated.
The programme should be ready to start administering jabs “no later” than Wednesday September 22, it added.
It is understood that the Department of Health and Social care is also drawing resources which will be issued to local authorities and schools imminently on how to handle potential protests.
Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and deputy director of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, said: “It is completely unacceptable for anyone involved in administering the Covid-19 vaccine to be subjected to verbal abuse or violence, and we will be working with local partners to ensure that children, teachers and vaccinators are safe while carrying out these life-saving vaccinations.”
NHS England is expected to advise SAIS teams to follow that guidance, which is likely to reflect similar instructions issued earlier in the year on how to deal with violence, threats and abuse at vaccination sites.
Zero-tolerance to violent or abusive behaviour
Workers should not tolerate or accept any instances of violent or abusive behaviour and should report all incidents, under the original guidance.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has called on pressure groups to stop sending letters “threatening” legal action if schools or colleges take part in a Covid-19 vaccination programme, and urged them against staging protests.
He said: “The guidance is absolutely clear that schools are not responsible for mediating between parents and children who may disagree about whether or not to consent. This is the role of registered nurses in the School Age Immunisation Service.
“We are very concerned about the possibility of protests being held outside schools, and we are pleased to see that the guidance references this and provides advice about how to respond to this threat.”
He added it was a “sorry state of affairs” if groups believe it is “helpful in any way to stage a protest outside a school over a vaccine programme” which is designed to be in children’s best interests and minimise educational disruption.
The UKHSA added that consent will be sought by the SAIS provider from the parent or guardian.
A consent form and information leaflet provided by the SAIS team will be used to seek parental consent and parents will be provided with a contact number in case of any queries.
The guidance said: “In secondary schools, some older children may be sufficiently mature to provide their own consent.
“This sometimes occurs if a parent has not returned a consent form but the child still wishes to have the vaccine on the day of the session.
“Every effort will be made to contact the parent to seek their verbal consent. The school has no role in this process.”