New COVID warning that virus is 'flying through schools'

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High school students at school, wearing N95 Face masks. Teenage girl wearing eyeglasses sitting at the school desk and reading book.
A public health expert has said we should be offering teens the vaccine so they have that protection before going back into schools.

A public health expert has said younger teenagers should be offered the COVID jab to slow the rapid spread of the virus in schools. 

Public health expert Devi Sridhar warned the vaccine rollout should be widened as a matter of urgency.

Scotland has experienced a surge in cases in recent days, which has coincided with the return of children to school. John Swinney, Scotland's deputy first minister, has warned that high numbers of young people are testing positive. 

Sridhar, professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, said: “I think right now, if we know the options with Delta, given how infectious it is, is that either you’re going to be exposed to COVID without any protection or you can be exposed and have a vaccine.

“And we should be offering teens that vaccine so they have that protection before going back into schools.”

Watch: UK vaccine rollout should turn to children 'as fast as we can'

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has not yet advised on widening the COVID vaccine rollout to healthy teens in the 12-15 age group.

However, it is believed NHS organisations in England have been told to prepare for a possible extension of the vaccination programme to the age group.

Read more: Hospital declares 'critical incident' after surge in COVID patients

Earlier this week Professor Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, who sits on the JCVI, said the situation around younger children getting the vaccine was "under constant re-evaluation", saying a "cautious approach" was being taken.

He told Sky News: "We’re very confident that for first doses for healthy 16 and 17-year-olds, that benefit/risk ratio is overwhelmingly in favour of receiving that first dose, but people can be reassured that we’re taking this cautiously, we’re not rushing forward, and we very much don’t want to be in a position of later discovering we made the wrong decision.

“So, the benefits are clear for the first dose for this age group. We will be looking very carefully before taking any further steps into younger children, or second doses.”

Prof Sridhar said the issue with a pandemic was that "waiting and watching costs time".

“And time is the currency now that matters because it’s not like we can wait and watch and in six months say ‘OK, it’s safe, let’s vaccinate’," she added.

“In those six months if a large percentage of 12 to 15-year-olds get infected, in some ways they’ve lost that window of time and so I think perhaps they don’t feel the urgency that they should be feeling given it’s an emergency situation and we have Delta, which is so infectious. I mean, it’s just flying through schools as we know.

“But not just here, Germany, Denmark, even places like New Zealand and Australia are struggling with Delta compared to the original virus.”

On Tuesday, Nicola Sturgeon said she could not “completely rule out” reimposing coronavirus restrictions after Scotland was hit with 4,323 new cases - the highest recorded in 24 hours throughout the whole pandemic. Cases have since risen to more than 5,000.

Cases are also rising across the UK, with 35,800 new infections reported yesterday - a weekly increase of 12%.

In England, returning secondary school pupils are being urged to get tested – and vaccinated where possible – to minimise disruption to lessons over the autumn term.

Ministers are launching a campaign to persuade parents, secondary school and college students to take part in voluntary asymptomatic Covid-19 testing.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “No decisions have been made on vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds and it is inaccurate to suggest otherwise.

“Ministers have not yet received further advice from the JCVI on this cohort.

“We continue to plan for a range of scenarios to ensure we are prepared for all eventualities.”

Watch: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?

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