NICOLA Sturgeon’s government are pressing the case behind the scenes to UK medical advisers to consider offering the Covid jag to all primary children as record pupil absences hit schools.

A paper has been submitted to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisations (JCVI) by a Scottish Government group chaired by the public health expert Professor Linda Bauld. The jag was approved for use in children aged five to 11 years old by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) after finding it is safe and effective.

Shortly afterwards, the JCVI recommended that five to 11 year olds in a clinical risk group or who are a household contact of someone who is immuno-suppressed should be offered the vaccine with an interval of eight weeks between the first and second doses. Larry Flanagan, the general secretary of the country’s largest teaching union, the Education Institute of Scotland (EIS), first made a plea for the vaccine to be offered to younger children ahead of the Omicron wave and has now stepped up his call.

The National: Linda BauldLinda Bauld

The Omicron variant was first detected in Scotland at the end of November and since then hundreds of thousands of school days have been lost as a result of its rapid spread.

Concerns that poor ventilation in schools may be assisting transmission of the virus last week prompted ministers to announce funding to local authorities to saw off the bottom of classroom doors in a bid to improve air quality.

“We support vaccination for primary school pupils and we have articulated that to the Scottish Government. I am aware that the Scottish Government’s advisory sub committee that deals with education has submitted a paper to the JCVI floating the case for vaccination of primary age pupils,” said Flanagan.

Last month during a Covid statement to Holyrood, the First Minister said Scotland “stands ready” to vaccinate all five to 11-year-olds if the JCVI recommends that. However, the JCVI have not to date recommend the policy. In September the body passed the decision on vaccinating 12 to 15 year olds to the UK’s four chief medical officers. At the time Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland were among the few European countries controversially not offering the Covid jab to younger teens with the JCVI insisting the health benefits of vaccines for younger teenagers, weighed against possible side-effects, were not clear.

Addressing Holyrood on Tuesday, the First Minister drew attention to the impact of Covid on under 15s and the knock on effect on infections in older people.

“The biggest increase in the past week, of 7% , was in the under-15s. However, that is significantly lower than the 41% rise in that age group that was recorded in the previous week,” she said.

“That may well – indeed, I hope it does – indicate that the impact of the return to school after the Christmas break is beginning to tail off.

“Cases also increased last week, by 5%, among 25 to 44-year-olds, which is likely to reflect infections among children now feeding through into that age group, many of whom are parents or carers.”

Public health expert Professor Andrew Watterson, of Stirling University, said the Scottish Government was not legally obliged to wait for JCVI advice.

The National: Andrew WattersonAndrew Watterson

“The JCVI has no statutory basis for providing advice to ministers in Scotland or Northern Ireland although Scotland may choose to follow its advice and has consistently done so on Covid. This has meant that at times Scottish decisions to vaccinate or boost vaccines in children including younger children have lagged behind the US and parts of Europe for the 5 to 15 year old age groups,” he said.

“In one sense the belated Scottish decisions to vaccinate children under 16 have been precautionary in terms of assessing vaccine impacts on children: in another sense they have not been precautionary at all in terms of controlling the pandemic in schools with pupils under 15 and among school staff .

“By early January 2022, the US Centre for Disease Control was clear that everyone ages 12 years and older should get a Covid-19 booster shot with one vaccine also approved for 5-11 year olds. In contrast, figures indicate many 12 -15 year olds have not yet be fully vaccinated in Scotland and the 5-11 age group has been sidelined even longer ”.

“The Scottish Government announced on 25 January 2022 that there was an increase of 41% in Covid cases in the under 15s. This serves to highlight why the US and European vaccination policies were correct to protect younger children and staff and ensure the functioning of schools. Scotland, although it has done relatively well on some parts of its vaccination programme, has lagged behind in controlling Covid in these younger school children.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We have rolled out the vaccination programme guided by advice from the JCVI. Should there be any update to advice about vaccinating all 5-11 year olds, we shall review, and operationalise accordingly.”

It comes as Scotland recorded 24 more Covid deaths and a further 5650 positive cases of the virus.

The new Scottish Government figures take the number of people who have died within 28 days of a positive Covid test to 10,431.

There were 990 people in hospital on Friday with recently confirmed Covid, down from 1,042 on Thursday.

The number of people requiring intensive care for longer than 28 days decreased from 27 to 25.

The figures also showed that across Scotland, 4,419,733 people have received the first dose of the Covid vaccination, 4,134,606 have received their second dose, and 3,314,502 have received a third dose or booster.