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Opinion: Covid vaccinations for children a significant step

Editorial

The decision by the UK's four chief medical officers to recommend Covid jabs for 12 to 15-year-olds is the most significant move to ramp up our vaccination programme in months.

The UK as a whole is already lagging behind the Republic, which began vaccinating children in the same age group almost a month ago.

Now two weeks into the school term, parents may ask why a decision on vaccinations was not made in the summer.

A clearer pathway on how to handle Covid outbreaks in schools, including a vaccination programme and improved classroom ventilation, may have helped to avoid the mess of hundreds of children being forced to self-isolate at home following contact with a positive Covid-19 case.

The north's Chief Medical Officer Sir Michael McBride said last week that although it was "inevitable" there would be Covid cases in schools, not attending class would cause "long-term harm to many children and young people".

The government is likely to face further tough decisions on the rollout of the vaccination programme, with European regulatory approval for a vaccine for children aged five to 11 expected next month.

Although Covid is not deemed to be a serious illness in children, Dr Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, has backed vaccinations.

He noted that some severe cases had been reported in children, that they help spread the virus and that we do not yet know the long-term impact of Covid infection on young people.

Vaccinations are hugely important.

Public health expert Professor Gabriel Scally said earlier this month that extending the Covid vaccination programme to all 12-15 year olds was "no brainer".

However, Professor Scally has said that other preventative measures are also key.

A visiting professor of public health at the University of Bristol, he highlighted the need for better ventilation in buildings and a shift away from rudimentary face masks to properly manufactured ones.

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle, chairman of Stormont's education committee, has already called for a review of ventilation in schools amid high Covid infection rates.

The latest figures show that the highest number of new Covid cases are being reported in children, particularly those aged between 10 and 14.

It is vital that we do everything we can to ensure our children can stay in school after the huge disruption of the past two years.

It is increasingly clear that we cannot rely on vaccination alone.

Better masks and ventilation must also form part of our response to the pandemic.

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