The Covid vaccine roll-out for healthy 12-15 year-olds is due to begin this week, but scientists remain concerned about the likely side effects. Some teachers tell me their schools still aren’t fully aware of the role they are supposed to play – “I can see it becoming a minefield”, said one teacher at a school in Yorkshire – and there seems to be some confusion among parents about the power they hold. Can they withhold their consent for the vaccination of their children or not?
Parents will be sent consent forms but only, it seems, as a formality since children who are deemed ‘competent’ (the assessment of which contains no set of defined questions) will be able to overrule the decisions of their parents anyway. This is of a piece with the Government’s decision to push ahead with its roll-out despite being told by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that “there is considerable uncertainty regarding the magnitude of the potential harms” of Covid vaccination in healthy teenagers and that – given the small risk Covid poses to healthy 12-15 year-olds – the “margin of benefit… is considered too small”.
The JCVI is “generous” in its assessment, according to an executive at a pharmaceutical company writing for the Daily Sceptic. (He, by the way, believes vaccines are among the “three greatest medical innovations”, so could hardly be labelled “anti-vax”!) Responding to the data, he says there is a “serious enough” risk of children developing myocarditis after vaccination (inflammation of the heart muscle, the long-term consequences of which aren’t fully understood) whereas the benefits of vaccination are “not well quantified” by the JCVI. The body also fails to properly consider the risk of other conditions following vaccination.
Professor Adam Finn sums up the situation by saying the vaccination of children would not – in normal times – have been approved because of the possible risks. He believes that parents are justified in waiting to allow their children to get ‘jabbed’ until these risks are better understood. But therein lies the problem. What – if anything – can parents do to delay the vaccination of their children?
I’ve been trying to find the answer to this question over the past week – and the prospects for concerned parents are fairly bleak.
It’s probably best to start by ruling out protesting, given that schools have been told to call the police if “anti-vaxxers” plan demonstrations outside their gates. (I’m not sure that seeing their parents being dragged away by the police will be great for children’s mental health, which the vaccine roll-out is supposed to protect, but that’s a matter for another article.) One also has to question whether protesting would be worth it even if there wasn’t the risk of arrest.
The main tool in the parent’s armoury seems to be the written – or, perhaps, the spoken – word. You can’t be arrested for telling your local headteacher (either in a letter or at a meeting) that you disagree with your child being vaccinated without your consent (though you might be removed from their Christmas card list). The Yorkshire teacher mentioned above tells me that he gets the impression his school will do all it can to wash its hands of responsibility on this matter, preferring to say that the important decisions (i.e., “who should be vaccinated at school”) will be made by health professionals who use the school site (School Age Immunisation Service (SAIS) officials), not by the school itself. The school would, in this case, be wrong. Lawyers For Liberty (LFL), a group of non-partisan lawyers, made this point quite clear in its recent letter to the heads of regulatory bodies concerned with the protection of children and safety in schools:
If schools are intended to be the ultimate setting for the child vaccination programme, then school leaders will be deemed to have approved the Vaccination against the JCVI Advice. This has a variety of potential legal ramifications for school staff. Certainly many are concerned that there may be a serious safeguarding concern that would not align with the legal duties of schools, as outlined in the Department for Education document “Keeping Children Safe in Education”.
In another letter that LFL has drafted for parents to send to schools (see more details here), heads are given notice of their (and their school’s) potential legal liability on the matter of Covid vaccination.
If a parent communicates to you that their child will not to be included in the vaccination programme or does not provide consent, then that decision must be respected, without any further consequences for the child, including direct or indirect discrimination or coercion. Failure to do so may result in possible legal claims against you personally and for your School.
(It is worth noting here that Government guidelines say if a child gets ill following vaccination and the SAIS team has left the school, the situation should be managed “according to existing policies for pupil sickness in school”. In other words, it will be the responsibility of the school.)
Given the likelihood that schools would sooner “wash their hands” of responsibility on this tricky and confusing matter than face an array of expensive legal challenges (schools could be “vicariously liable for any harm which may come to any child receiving the vaccination whilst in your care leading to financial sanctions between £180,000 to £20 million”, according to LFL), simply presenting (personally or through the LFL letter) the head of your child’s school with the above information could be enough to prevent your child from being vaccinated without your consent. Imagine raising a question about the school’s insurance policy coverage for vaccination on school sites in the case of side effects. Staff are likely to respect your wishes, but it goes without saying that responses will differ from one school to the next.
Perhaps concerned that their words won’t be enough to block the vaccination of their children, some parents have decided to go one step further and keep their children away from school to stop them from being peer-pressured to accept the vaccination, according to the Telegraph. If you do decide to do that, it’s worth bearing in mind that the SAIS providers will likely only set up in your local school for one to two days, depending on the number of students, and that parents will be notified of the specific date(s) beforehand.