London: The UK’s health service started to roll out COVID-19 vaccines to schoolchildren aged 12-15 on Monday as part of the latest expansion of the country’s vaccination programme.

Almost 3 million children in this age group are eligible for one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine following the government’s acceptance of the UK Chief Medical Officers’ recommendation last week.

England and Scotland begin their school vaccines rollout this week, while Wales and Northern Ireland are scheduled to begin by next week.

It’s encouraging to see 12 to 15-year-olds starting to get their vaccinations today reflecting our ongoing commitment to protect young people from COVID-19 and minimise any disruption to their education, said UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid.

The vaccine has made a significant difference in saving lives and reducing transmissions and has met the strict standards of safety and effectiveness of our renowned medicines regulator for those aged 12 and over, he said.

The National Health Service (NHS) said the jabs will start in hundreds of schools across the country this week, with invitations for a COVID booster dose also being sent out to eligible over-50s this week.

Following the decision by the government, and building on the success of the NHS COVID-19 vaccination programme which has delivered over 77 million vaccinations, the NHS will now roll out to hundreds of schools over the next few days, said Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and deputy lead for the NHS COVID-19 vaccination programme.

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The vaccine is safe and effective and I would urge families to work closely with their schools-based vaccination team to get their loved ones vaccinated when they are invited to protect themselves and their families ahead of the winter period, she said.

The NHS said that like the flu and HPV vaccines, COVID-19 jabs will be delivered by local School Age Immunisation Services (SAIS) who will work closely with schools to identify all eligible children.

In line with standard practice for vaccinations in England schools, consent letters are being sent out to parents and guardians with information on the COVID-19 vaccination.

Families do not need to contact the NHS to arrange their child’s vaccine, schools and providers will be in touch, NHS England said.

Alternative arrangements will be made to ensure those not in school are vaccinated, including those who are homeschooled or in secure services.

The school-aged flu vaccine has been extended this year so that most secondary school-aged children will be eligible for both the flu and COVID-19 vaccine this winter.

School leaders and staff can be reassured that they will not be responsible for any clinical aspect of the delivery of the programme, and whatever decision teenagers and parents take, they must be supported and not stigmatised in any way. We must continue to respect individual choice, said UK Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi.

Schools and providers will seek consent from parents or legal guardians for vaccinating 12-15s, but if the situation arises where a child wants to get the vaccine without parental consent, the child and parent will be invited for a joint discussion with the clinician or healthcare professional, who can make a decision about whether the child is legally competent to make decisions about their healthcare.

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