The rollout of second dose Covid jabs for 12- to 15-year-olds will begin in schools from 10 January, with NHS teams hoping to visit every school at least once by the February half-term.
But the announcement comes despite the latest NHS data showing more than half of the age group have still not received their first dose.
The government has now confirmed second vaccines for pupils in their early teens will be delivered “primarily” by the school age immunisation service, typically part of local NHS trusts.
Young people will also be able to receive jabs at vaccination centres, which will “run in parallel” from early next month, according to an email to school leaders.
The details come after the government’s scientific advisers said young people should receive second doses, but no earlier than 12 weeks after first doses.
“In school vaccination will begin from Monday 10 January and all schools should have received at least one visit before February half-term,” the email read.
“We expect most schools to require multiple visits so vaccines can be administered to all consenting pupils. SAIS teams will be in touch with schools from the start of next term to discuss what is best for their circumstances.”
But the DfE said for some very small schools, on-site vaccination “may not be appropriate”, adding that alternative arrangements will be implemented to “ensure timely, accessible, and equitable vaccination.”
More information, including on getting consent for vaccine second doses, is due to be published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) “shortly”.
Officials added that vaccinating young people is “increasingly important” in the run-up to Christmas, and that parents can book first doses via the NHS booking system for 12-15-year-olds over the break.
More than half of 12-15-year-olds without first dose
Just 44.9 per cent of those aged 12 to 15 have received one dose, compared to 89 per cent of the population at large. The vaccine roll-out for youngsters started in September.
Vaccination rates across England vary from 65.6 per cent in East Hampshire, to less than half that in London boroughs including Barking and Dagenham, where it stands at 23.5 per cent.
It is not clear how far this reflects the pace of the rollout or vaccine hesitancy. A recent Office for National Statistics survey found only 12 per cent of parents of 12-15-year-olds said their child was unlikely to be vaccinated. But the poll only involved 140 parents.
The rollout was also criticised for being too slow early on, with children allowed to get jabs at vaccine centres to speed it up.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of school leaders’ union ASCL, said it was “frustrating” to be only rolling out second doses now while the focus was now on boosters for the adult population.
“It is hard to escape the conclusion that this programme for 12 to 15-year-olds was started too late and that even then the first dose of the vaccine was not delivered at the speed required because health teams obviously did not have sufficient capacity.”
But he welcomed the second-dose rollout. “Anything which can help to alleviate the ongoing disruption to education and keep children in the classroom must be a good thing.”
It comes on the same day attendance data showed Covid absences have jumped by 13 per cent in the past fortnight, while staff absences are up by 20 per cent.