At the start of this term schools were presented with a fresh challenge arising from the Covid 19 pandemic – the hosting of vaccination services for 12- to 15-year-olds.
Whilst the responsibility for delivering the vaccination programme for 12- to 15-year-olds is the responsibility of the School Age Immunisation Service (SAIS), schools have nevertheless found the process to be extremely challenging.
As the host of vaccination services, schools are not responsible for securing parental or child consent or for mediating between parents and children who may disagree about whether or not to consent to the vaccination. However, schools have found that in practice they are getting caught up in the crossfire.
Schools should be careful not to get involved in any matters regarding consent or assessing whether a child is capable of giving consent. It should be made clear to parents who are raising concerns around consent that this is a matter for discussion with the SAIS registered nurses, not with the school.
Schools should be careful to limit their involvement in the process to only those tasks that the SAIS team specifically require of them.
As well as grappling with the logistics of facilitating on-site vaccination services, schools have been faced with the additional challenge of being the target of anti-vaccination campaigns. A recent survey by the Association of School and College Leaders found that 79% of the secondary schools surveyed have been sent threatening emails protesting against the use of the school premises for vaccination services.
Even more worrying is the revelation that 13% of secondary schools surveyed have had to contend with the presence of physical protests immediately outside the school premises. Eighteen of the schools surveyed even reported having had anti-vaccination protesters trespassing on school premises.
There have also been reports in the media of campaigners handing out leaflets at the school gates, as well as schools being tricked into sending parents falsified consent forms that contain misinformation.
The anti-vaccination emails received by schools have taken a variety of forms. Some have threatened schools with legal action and, even more alarmingly, others have threatened physical violence against school staff.
With the 12- to 15-year-old vaccination programme significantly behind schedule, the unfortunate reality is that the anti-vaccination campaign against schools is far from over.
Reporting disruptive activity
If schools witness disruptive activity on or near their premises, or if they learn that any such activity is being planned, they should notify their local SAIS team, their Local Authority and the police. It also goes without saying that schools should notify the police of any threats of physical violence made against any of their staff.
Where schools are targeted by anti-vaccination campaigners with emails containing misinformation, the Government’s advice is that schools should avoid engaging in discussions. The guidance recommends that schools may instead acknowledge receipt, if an acknowledgement is considered necessary, or refer to the latest scientific guidance, if it is considered that there is a need to do so.
At independent schools, parents’ high expectations are often at odds with the brief response advocated by the Government, and schools are finding themselves having to tread very carefully.
How Moore Barlow can help
If you feel you would like support in managing your obligations as a vaccination services host, or in formulating any responses to anti-vaccination correspondence from parents, we would be very happy to guide you through the process of doing so.