Although young people aged 16-17 can now receive a first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, local councils don’t intend to make vaccinations mandatory or apply “discrimination” between vaccinated and unvaccinated school pupils.
Instead, they will adhere to guidance from the Scottish Government and public health officials by encouraging eligible school pupils to receive the vaccine and educating them on how to do so.
Who is eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine?
The vaccine is now available to everyone over the age of 16. Children over 12 are only eligible if they have certain health conditions or live with an immunocompromised person.
Earlier this week, Prof Wei Shen Lim, chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) announced that vaccine rollout to 16- and 17-year-olds could begin in the UK.
He added that the JCVI recommends the Pfizer vaccine for this age group and believes one dose can protect from severe illness and hospitalisation.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister John Swinney have both welcomed the announcement. They both said earlier this week that Scotland will begin the rollout as soon as possible.
What does this mean for school pupils?
With the new expansion of the vaccine to children aged 16-17, it means that a group of school-aged pupils are generally eligible to receive the vaccine for the first time.
When asked about how they would handle student vaccinations, councils across the north and north east said that they will adhere to advice from health boards and the Scottish Government.
All vaccinations will continue to be voluntary.”
-Highland Council spokesperson
A spokeswoman for the Highland Council outlined this stance.
“The Covid-19 vaccination has not been mandated by legislation for adults or children therefore all vaccinations will continue to be voluntary.”
She added that the council would follow public health guidance to encourage vaccines for those eligible.
A spokesperson for Shetland Islands Council said that they would allow time out of school to attend appointments.
No ‘discrimination’ between pupils with and without the vaccine
Councils said that there are no plans to limit unvaccinated students’ participation in activities or require further testing or restrictions.
“Pupils who do not choose to receive the vaccine will not be excluded from any activities.”
-Shetland Islands Council spokesperson
Current guidance asks all senior phase pupils and staff to take lateral flow tests before the start of the year and then twice weekly.
The Shetland Islands Council spokesperson said: “Pupils who do not choose to receive the vaccine will not be excluded from any activities.”
A spokesman for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said that any such restrictions would only come from the Scottish Government or another external body.
“The Comhairle does not intend to apply any discrimination between vaccinated and unvaccinated pupils in terms of testing or access to services beyond any that are set out national guidance or are required of us to be enforced by external parties.”
Government has ‘no plans’ for mandatory vaccination
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said that vaccinations for 16- and 17-year-olds can support regular in-person learning by reducing the spread of COVID. But students will not be required to receive it, they added.
“While we very strongly encourage young people to take up the vaccine, we have no plans to make vaccination mandatory. We continue to follow the expert JCVI advice and will await the outcome of analysis of data on second doses for this age group and any additional future advice on vaccination for those in the 12-15 age group.”
How to get a Covid-19 vaccine if you’re newly eligible
Representatives for Moray, Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils said they will follow advice from NHS Grampian. An NHS Grampian spokeswoman said that vaccination decisions are up to the individual, but invited eligible young people to make an appointment.
“As with all other age cohorts in the Covid-19 vaccination programme, we will provide relevant information to support people to make an informed decision. Planning for clinics for 16-17-year-olds is well underway and we would encourage them to register for an appointment, using the registration portal on the NHS Inform website.”
From August 10, anyone 16 or older may attend a drop-in clinic, as long as the clinic offers the Pfizer vaccine.