COVID-19 vaccination for 16-17 year olds – tackling the immediate issues

19 August 2021

COVID-19 vaccination for 16-17 year olds – tackling the immediate issues

The government has adopted the JCVI's (Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation) advice to extend the COVID-19 vaccination programme to 16 and 17 year olds and all such young people in England will have been offered their first vaccination by 23 August 2021. For schools, this means that pupils in Years 11 – 13 may decide to have the vaccine and schools will need to consider the following issues.

1. Parental consent

By law, parental consent is not required. From the age of 16 an individual in the UK can consent to their own medical treatment, which will include the decision to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. 16 and 17 year olds are deemed to have sufficient capacity to decide on their own medical treatment, unless there is significant evidence to suggest otherwise.

2. Whether to ask for confirmation of pupil vaccination

Vaccination status will be sensitive personal data relating to health and schools must consider whether it is necessary to ask for this information from pupils. Schools may be able to justify collecting this information if it will affect the COVID-secure practices that schools have worked so hard to put in place.

Schools have a duty to protect the health and safety of pupils and staff, so it is possible that this could be used as a basis to collect this information lawfully. Schools should, of course, be mindful of complying with data protection legislation whenever they collect new categories of data.

The method of obtaining, secure handling and storing of such sensitive personal data will require careful consideration (for example: how, where and when would pupils be asked to provide this information?). The most appropriate place to record this data will depend on your current information management systems, but may be best placed on a medical record if this is held separately to the pupil file.

3. Staff should be alert to any symptoms or side-effects

Research and guidance from the NHS currently suggests a gap of between 8 – 12 weeks between doses for this age group. If younger people experience any of the symptoms listed in the government guidance after receiving their vaccination, they should be referred to medical or first aid staff in school and are advised to call 111 or speak to their GP:

  • "a stabbing pain and/or tightness in the chest which may spread across the body
  • pain in the neck that may spread across the shoulders and/or arms
  • shortness of breath when lightly exercising or walking
  • difficulty breathing when resting or feeling light-headed
  • flu-like symptoms such as a high temperature, tiredness and fatigue
  • palpitations or an abnormal heart rhythm
  • feeling like you need to be sick"[1].

4. Amendments to the Pupil Privacy Notice

Ensure that any data your school decides to collect is covered by the existing data protection documentation. If it is not dealt with sufficiently in the pupil Privacy Notice, you may need to add some additional wording to accurately describe the information you intend to process, the lawful basis for doing so and the relevant condition for processing that is required for special category data.

5. Parents requesting the vaccination status of their child

Any such requests for information should be treated in line with the School's data protection duties in the usual way. The response will depend on the specific circumstances of each case as well as the type of school the pupil attends.

If there are any 'red flags' (such as safeguarding concerns) which indicate that the young person might withhold their consent to this information being shared, the school should obtain the express and specific consent of the young person before sharing this information. If consent is withheld by the young person, the School's response will require some further thought.

6. Building this new vaccination factor in to your "outbreak management plans"

The emergency "outbreak management plans" plans triggered by an outbreak of COVID-19 in your school or local area will need to be amended to take account of the fact that some of the pupil population may have been "jabbed or double jabbed" by or during the Autumn term 2021.

7. Test and trace implications

From 19 July 2021 close contacts of pupils are due to be identified via NHS Test and Trace and education settings will no longer be expected to undertake contact tracing.

The COVID-19 operational guidance for schools was updated on 17 August 2021[2].

From 16 August 2021, "individuals are not required to self-isolate if they live in the same household as someone with COVID-19, or are a close contact of someone with COVID-19, and any of the following apply:

  • they are fully vaccinated
  • they are below the age of 18 years and 6 months
  • they have taken part in or are currently part of an approved COVID-19 vaccine trial
  • they are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons".

The guidance goes on to state: "children and young people aged under 18 years 6 months who usually attend school, and have been identified as a close contact, should continue to attend school as normal. They do not need to wear a face covering within the school, but it is expected and recommended that these are worn when travelling on public or dedicated transport."

However, close contacts will be contacted by NHS test and trace, advised to take a PCR test and will need to isolate if that test is positive or if they develop symptoms.

8. Testing remains

The COVID-19 operational guidance for schools on asymptomatic testing remains unchanged in this updated 17 August 2021 version:

"As pupils will potentially mix with lots of other people during the summer holidays, all secondary school pupils should receive 2 on-site lateral flow device tests, 3 to 5 days apart, on their return in the autumn term.

Settings may commence testing from 3 working days before the start of term and can stagger return of pupils across the first week to manage this. Pupils should then continue to test twice weekly at home until the end of September, when this will be reviewed."

Many schools already have plans for a staggered return to school and we will be keeping a watchful eye on any changes to the guidance as we approach the start of term and towards the end of September when the guidance is due to be reviewed.

9. Attendance with COVID-19 symptoms

The guidance is helpful if you have a situation where a pupil is displaying COVID-19 symptoms, should isolate but the parents insist on sending them in to school. It states that you can take the decision to refuse the pupil (ie. send them home) if, "in your reasonable judgement, it is necessary to protect other pupils and staff from possible infection with COVID-19".

Any such decision will need to be carefully considered in light of all the circumstances and current public health advice. We would advise schools to document all considerations and reasons carefully so that you care able to justify your decision if it is questioned or appealed.

10. Jurisdiction issues

At present, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all indicated that they will follow the advice and approve vaccination for 16 and 17-year-olds so that young people can begin to receive their COVID-19 vaccination before the start of term in September. There may, however, still be differences between the nations regarding the implementation of any related rules around isolation and return to school.

Where pupils will be travelling from abroad to attend school you will need to explain the rules around travel and quarantine to parents before the individuals arrive in the UK.

From the start of the new school term, international visits that have previously been deferred or postponed may go ahead and schools can also begin to organise new international visits for the future. There are clearly a number of conditions and factors that need to be considered and thorough risk assessments should be conducted and updated regularly if you are planning any overseas educational visits.

For further information or to discuss any queries, please contact Vicky Wilson, Stephen Oxley or your usual Wilsons contact.

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