Covid: 16 and 17-year-olds in Wales could get jab before term starts

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A young person getting a jabImage source, Getty Images
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About 1.4 million 16 and 17-year-olds in the UK could now get a jab

Sixteen and 17-year-olds in Wales could be offered a jab before they return to school or college for the new term, the health minister has said.

Eluned Morgan said "in an ideal world", invitations would start going out in the next few days.

The UK Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation (JCVI) has decided they will not need parental consent and would receive the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.

Ms Morgan said "the right thing to do is to listen to the experts".

"We are hoping that we will be able to get this done, ideally, before they go back to their sixth forms, their colleges at the beginning of September," she added.

The JCVI changed guidance earlier this week, meaning 1.4 million teenagers across the UK will be eligible.

Ms Morgan said: "There's around 400 years of experience around that JCVI table, people who really know what they're talking about.

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The health minister said the decision was based on the advice of experts

"So what they've done is they have looked at all the issues which could arise and we do have to appreciate that there are lots of harms.

"It's not just about Covid - there are mental health issues, there are other issues."

She said the Welsh government needed to ensure pupils remained in school and to give at least a first dose of the vaccine.

Laura Doel, director of head teachers' union NAHT Cymru, said it should not be the responsibility of schools and teachers to encourage vaccine uptake.

"Vaccination decisions need to be based on the medical and scientific evidence and if the Welsh government says that's what they're doing that's of course something we would support," she added.

"We do feel however that every parent has the choice to make that decision, and we don't feel that schools have a role to play in enforcement or promoting that choice."

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Walk-in centres have been set up to make it easier for those who have not had a first dose

The health minister said she hoped enough sixth-formers would come forward to mean there would be no role for teachers in encouraging them.

"We are talking to schools about the need to make sure there is appropriate ventilation and that we go into the winter prepared for what could be a difficult time, but of course we do hope that we are in a situation now where so much of the population have received both doses of the vaccine that we'll be in a different place," she said.

Ms Doel also said she was concerned about other measures ending.

"Schools have had staggered starts and finish times in place for a number of months," she added.

"This disapplication of the regulations has now ceased so that means schools won't be able to have that flexibility, and if you take away those staggered start and finish times, if you take away things like contact groups you need to make sure that whatever is put in place in terms of mitigation is robust and make sure that schools are as safe an environment as possible.

"What we don't want is for vaccinations to take the place of those other rigorous mitigation measures because we believe they all have a role to play in the safety of schools."