Preparations are under way to ensure the NHS is ready to offer Covid-19 vaccines to all 12 to 15-year-olds in England from early September, although no decision has yet been made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) regarding giving jabs to this age group.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that if the JCVI recommends that 12 to 15-year-olds should be offered the vaccine “we need to be ready to hit the ground running”.
“That is what parents across the country would rightly expect us to do, to keep their children safe".
The DHSC said the coronavirus vaccination programme has been so successful because plans were put in place before the medicines regulator approved the vaccine and before the JCVI gave final advice as to who should get their jab and when.
“Our forward planning for booster vaccines and the possible rollout of the vaccine to 12 to 15-year-olds are part of this process.
“The MHRA has already said that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine are safe and effective for 12 to 17-year-olds,” the DHSC said, adding: “No decisions have been taken on the universal vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds and ministers have not received further advice from the JCVI.
The NHS is preparing to deliver a school-based programme that will be supplemented with other delivery models where necessary to ensure full coverage across the country, the DHSC said.
NHS England will be taking a number of steps including contracting providers to recruit and train staff to provide school-aged immunisation services, to ensure teams are ready and able to start offering vaccination in schools from September if needed.
They will be hosting webinars with immunisation providers, clinical commissioning groups and local authorities to update them on contingency planning arrangements, and publishing training materials for NHS vaccinators and local delivery partners.
If a decision is taken to vaccinate this cohort, the DHSC said communications will be issued to schools asking them to support the vaccination effort if needed, for example by making space available in the schools or enabling children to take time out of lessons to travel to vaccination sites.
The DHSC said that in the event that the JCVI recommends Covid-19 vaccines should be offered to those aged 12-15, parental or carer consent will be sought.
“This is no different from any other school vaccination programme,” the department said.
The government said it is also continuing to prepare for a booster programme to ensure those most vulnerable to Covid-19 have their protection against the virus extended ahead of winter and strengthened against new variants.
Listen to our latest coronavirus podcast
A first Covid-19 vaccine dose is currently being offered to all 16 and 17-year-olds and 12 to 15-year-olds with specific underlying health conditions and those who are household contacts of someone who is immunosuppressed.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Throughout the pandemic the government has planned ahead so we can respond to changing circumstances and move quickly to offer the life-saving vaccine to the people who need it most.
“That is why, while I await updated advice from JCVI on the 12-15 cohort, I have asked the NHS to make preparations – should they be needed – to roll out the vaccine to this group.”
This week, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said trusts are ready to move “at pace” to roll out vaccinations for 12 to 15-year-olds if and when necessary.