Children should be vaccinated “as fast as we can” to prevent “major disruption” to schooling, an expert advising the Government has said.
Sage expert Professor John Edmunds said there was a “significant risk of a resurgence” of the virus until all Brits have been jabbed, as he called for the vaccine rollout to turn to children.
Clinical trials are underway on giving jabs to children, but the vaccine is currently recommended for adults.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said early vaccine data shows the jab can reduce transmission of the virus by two thirds, which could be a factor in deciding whether children get vaccinated.
It comes as Boris Johnson is expected to spell out plans for the return to the classroom on Monday when he unveils his roadmap for exiting lockdown.
Ministers are leaning towards reopening primaries and secondaries on March 8 – despite warnings from education unions that bringing all pupils back at once risks further spikes.
Prof Edmunds, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said reopening all schools could push infection rates up.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the virus reproduction rate – known as R – rose above one when schools reopened in November.
Taking into account the progress with vaccines, he said: “If we open schools now, I think the reproduction number is likely to go to be something close to one, potentially slightly above, but it could be around one.”
Prof Edmunds said there was a risk of “major disruption” in schools until children have been vaccinated.
He said: “We’re all at risk and we can all spread the virus, and so until we’ve all been vaccinated – I include children here – then there is going to be significant risk of a resurgence.”
Prof Edmunds, who said he is a father of two secondary age children, said he believes “there is an argument for turning to children as fast as we can” in the rollout.
He added: “There will continue to be major disruption in schools until we have vaccinated our children.”
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises on the order of priority for jabs, is expected to set out its priority list for the under 50s in the coming days.
The Health Secretary once again rejected calls for teachers to be made a priority for the jab, saying “there isn’t strong evidence that teachers are more likely to catch Covid than any other group”.
He said there was evidence that the jabs could reduce transmission by two-thirds – which could be crucial in the decision on whether to immunise youngsters. “
Mr Hancock told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “There are two points here. One is that it absolutely must be safe, specifically for children, so that is being currently investigated.
“The second is – because children very, very rarely get symptoms or serious illness from the disease – the value, the importance, of vaccinating children is to try to stop the spread of the disease.”
Meanwhile, Keir Starmer rejected pressure from unions to call for a phased return of schools, arguing that “ideally” all children should be back in England’s classrooms on March 8.
The Labour leader called for more Covid-19 testing and “Nightingale classrooms” for extra learning over the summer to help kids catch up with months of lost time.
But teachers fear introducing mass testing of pupils in time for a ‘big bang’ March 8 reopening would be a “nightmare”.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “The idea that we could do three tests and open in one big bang on 8 March – that simply won’t be possible.”
But The Archbishop of Canterbury said he was “absolutely sure” the Government was right to prioritise the reopening of schools when lockdown measures are eased.
Justin Welby told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “That is probably the most urgent thing, it’s been the most urgent thing right the way through.”
Mr Welby said the Church of England educates more than a million children in its schools and recalled a senior medical adviser telling him last year: “Whatever you do, do everything you can to keep the schools going because the damage to children’s mental health, their long-term education, is so serious.”