Expert advice

COVID-19 vaccine rollout for children aged 12-15: what school nurses need to know

UK’s chief medical officers considered transmission risks and side effects

UK’s chief medical officers considered transmission risks and side effects

From late September, children aged 12 to 15 across the UK are to be offered their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19.

The move follows a recommendation by the UK’s four chief medical officers (CMOs). About 3 million children are eligible for the jab, despite the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) deciding not to recommend mass vaccination of the age group.

Why was the decision made?

UK’s chief medical officers considered transmission risks and side effects

From late September, children aged 12 to 15 across the UK are to be offered their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19
Picture: Alamy

From late September, children aged 12 to 15 across the UK are to be offered their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19.

The move follows a recommendation by the UK’s four chief medical officers (CMOs). About 3 million children are eligible for the jab, despite the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) deciding not to recommend mass vaccination of the age group.

Why was the decision made?

The UK’s CMOs said they were recommending vaccination on public health grounds and it would likely help to reduce transmission of COVID-19 in schools.

‘The effects of disrupted education, or uncertainty, on mental health are well recognised,’ they said. ‘While full closures of schools due to lockdowns is much less likely to be necessary in the next stages of the COVID-19 epidemic, UK CMOs expect the epidemic to continue to be prolonged and unpredictable.’

What does the data say?

Evidence suggests a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine cuts the risk of catching the Delta variant of COVID-19 by 55% and has a much higher effect on preventing severe illness and death. It also cuts transmission.

Why not two doses?

The JCVI has been asked to examine whether second doses should be given to children aged 12 to 15 once more data comes through internationally. Data from the US and Canada has indicated a higher rate of the extremely rare event of myocarditis after a second dose, which was considered in the decision-making.

Who was previously eligible for the vaccine?

All children aged 16 and 17 are being offered a first dose, with the intention of having a second dose at a later date. Those aged 12 to 15 are eligible for two doses if they are at higher risk of a number of issues.

England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty says there are currently no plans to look at vaccinating under-12s.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is currently not recommended for anyone under the age of 18.

Where will the vaccines be given?

The majority of vaccinations in England will take place in schools, while in Scotland children will be invited by letter to attend drop-in or community clinics. In some rural health boards in Scotland, some children will first be offered the vaccine at school.

In Wales, vaccinations will be carried out at mass vaccination centres and some school settings, and in Northern Ireland vaccinations are expected to start in October, mainly in schools.

Public Health England has published advice for young people about the vaccine.

What about consent?

England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty
England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty Picture: Alamy

Letters will be sent to children inviting them to have the vaccine, and if a child is offered a vaccination at school a consent form may be handed out to obtain parental permission.

Professor Whitty said that in the great majority of cases he expected children and their parents would come to the same decision.

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi, speaking before the end of his tenure as vaccines minister, said children would only be able to have a vaccination against their parents’ wishes following a meeting with a clinician, such as a nurse.

Under what is known as Gillick competence, children under the age of 16 can consent to their own treatment if they are thought to have the intelligence, competence and understanding to fully appreciate what is involved in their treatment.

Are there any side effects?

The most common side effects in children aged 12 to 15 are similar to those in people aged 16 and over. They include pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle and joint pain, chills and fever. These effects are usually mild or moderate and improve within a few days.

The JCVI has also investigated the effects of myocarditis after Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. While the condition can result in short periods of hospital observation, followed by typically swift recoveries, the JCVI has concluded that medium- to long-term outcomes are still uncertain and more follow-up time is needed to get a clearer picture.


Find out more

Sign up to continue reading for FREE

OR

Unlock full access to RCNi Plus today

Save over 50% on your first three months:

  • Customisable clinical dashboard featuring 200+ topics
  • Unlimited online access to all 10 RCNi Journals including Nursing Children and Young People
  • RCNi Learning featuring 180+ RCN accredited learning modules
  • NMC-compliant RCNi Portfolio to build evidence for revalidation
  • Personalised newsletters tailored to your interests

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs