As we move into a further period of Covid-19 protection measures it is important that children and young people are included in Government plans with clear and direct communication to them and inclusion in the accelerated vaccination programme.
We are concerned that the lack of information for children on protection measures is affecting their wellbeing. Children and young people are already experiencing high levels of anxiety as they are unclear in terms of what is allowed.
Decisions around restrictions must be proportionate and rights-based – they must involve children and young people and be explained in a way that they understand.
Children have the right to information and the Scottish Government should clarify to children about what activities (whether indoors or outdoors) are safer and which are of greater risk.
Over the school break, children and young people will want to socialise with friends and family in different ways to adults. The Scottish Government needs to ensure that public messaging is clear and that it takes into account the different needs of various age groups.
With the Omicron variant, there are suddenly greater levels of anxiety with swift changes being made and children and young people rightly pick up on this.
We must learn the lessons from earlier in the pandemic and involve children and young people in decisions that affect them. As well as communication through Young Scot and media channels, the Scottish Government should hold another Q&A session for children to answer any questions they may have right now.
The public protection measures must balance the protection of life and public health with important rights such as socialisation, development, play and recreation. There is also a balance with the right to respect for family life, recognising that this extends outside of “households”, and the right to education – recognising that this can take place outside of school. All of these rights are closely linked to mental health which remains a significant concern.
Measures which interfere with rights have a disproportionate impact on some groups of children and young people, so it is important that clear communication is targeted to these groups to explain what additional supports will be available.
In August 2021, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended that all 16 and 17 year olds should be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. On 13 September 2021, the four UK Chief Medical Officers agreed that all children aged 12-15 should be offered a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The JCVI were asked to consider whether second doses should be given once more international data was available. On 29 November 2021, the JCVI recommended that a second dose of the vaccine is advised for 12-15 year olds. The NHSInform.Scot website says this should be between eight and 12 weeks after the first dose.
Children aged 12-15 are not currently being prioritised as part of the accelerated vaccination programme as a result of the Omicron variant.
There should be clear messages about their access to, or prioritisation for, the second dose of vaccinations. Updates on the progress around decision-making on vaccinations for age 5-11s should be communicated as compared to many other countries, we are behind in prioritising vaccination for children and young people. Offering young people aged 12-17 a second vaccination as soon as possible may increase safety in educational settings in the new year and ensure that the right to education is not disrupted for a third school year.
There is little information online for young people, and those under 16 cannot book their second vaccine through the online portal. The NHSInform.Scot website says: “Children and young people aged 12 to 15 years will receive an invitation letter to come for their second dose in due course”.
Children have the right to the best possible health and should be able to access their second dose easily. Their right to health does not just involve protection from the virus, but also the impact on their mental health due to isolation, uncertainty, disruption to education, and other factors.
The Scottish Government should prioritise offering children aged 12 to 15 their second dose of the vaccine as part of the accelerated vaccine programme. That offer needs to make take up as straightforward as possible for young people to be vaccinated, if they wish to be.