All children aged 12 to 15 in Merton will soon be offered one dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine through their schools.
As well as protecting individual young people from COVID-19, extending the vaccine to this age group has wider benefits. It should reduce the many outbreaks which occur in schools and the need for time off, after two years of extensive disruption to education.
The roll-out will be supported by school nurses, GPs and pharmacists, and is being carried out in the same way as children receive other routine vaccinations at school.
We know that parents and carers have questions about the COVID jab and young people, so we asked lead GP for Merton, Dr Vasa Gnanapragasam to answer some of your most pressing queries.
Why has the vaccine been extended to 12 to 15s?
The government decided to offer one dose of the Pfizer vaccine to this age group after taking advice from the chief medical officers for the four UK nations and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
While the JCVI advice was that the jab had marginal health benefits for younger teenagers, the chief medical officers looked at the bigger picture, including the health impact of school disruption and recommended extending the vaccine offer to this group.
Does my child have to have the vaccine?
No. The vaccination is not mandatory, and children can choose not to have it. Parents will be asked to give their consent for the vaccination in advance. NHS leaflets explaining more about the vaccine for young people will be given to all students along with consent forms.
How does the consent process work for 12 to 15-year-olds?
While some children of this age are mature enough to provide their own consent, in most cases we expect the decision to be made jointly by parents and children – the leaflet given out in school encourages discussion at home. If a parent has not returned a consent form, but the child wishes to have the vaccine, every effort will be made to contact the parent for verbal consent. This is a well-established process, which is used in other school-based vaccination programmes.
What are the side effects for 12 to 15-year-olds?
Some people get mild side effects from the COVID-19 vaccination, which last for a day or two. These include tenderness in the vaccinated arm, feeling tired, headaches, aches and chills. Children who experience these symptoms should rest and take paracetamol (following the advice in the vaccination leaflet).
What about the news stories of heart problems?
Worldwide, there have been a very small number of cases of inflammation of the heart, called myocarditis or pericarditis, reported very rarely after COVID-19 vaccines. In the majority of these cases, the patient recovered within a few days following rest and simple treatments.
Can I take my child to a walk-in centre instead of school?
All healthy 12 to 15-year-olds will be vaccinated in school. You can’t currently take them to a walk-in centre or use the national booking system. If your child is absent from school when the vaccinations happen, catch-up clinics will be arranged. If your child has a health condition that means they are at risk from coronavirus, and they haven’t been vaccinated so far, contact your GP.
My child is home schooled, how will they get the vaccine?
The NHS school age immunisation service, which is managing the programme, will contact parents of children who are home educated to make arrangements.
Where can I find out more about the vaccine?
If, after reading the leaflet, you have any concerns or questions, please contact your GP or call in to any of the walk-in vaccination centres, where you can speak to our nurses or pharmacists. Find them on the NHS South West London website.