NHS England has instructed GPs to begin delivering Covid vaccines to vulnerable children by 23 August ‘at the latest’.
And young people within three months of their 18th birthday should be vaccinated ‘as soon as operationally feasible’.
The JCVI last week advised that children aged 12-15 who are deemed at ‘increased risk of serious Covid-19 disease’ should be offered the Pfizer vaccine, alongside those aged 12-17 who are household contacts of an immunosuppressed person and 17-year-olds due to turn 18 within three months.
At the time, the health secretary said he had accepted the JCVI’s advice and asked the NHS to start vaccinating the new group ‘as soon as possible’.
In a letter to GP practices on Friday, NHS England said GP-led sites should begin inviting eligible patients who are household contacts of the immunosuppressed or in at-risk groups to come forward, with jabs to start from 23 August ‘at the latest’.
It said: ‘Delivery plans must ensure: Children are offered a first dose vaccination before returning to school in September.
‘Therefore, it is expected that first dose vaccinations for eligible children aged 12-15 to be operational from w/c 23 August at the latest with invitations issued in advance.’
PCN groupings will need indemnity to vaccinate these children but a national contractual agreement will be put in place ‘shortly pending appropriate engagement with professional bodies’, it added.
The letter said that plans should also include an ‘appropriate mix’ of PCN-led sites, hospital hubs and school-aged vaccination services and that hospitals and local authorities should provide ‘opportunistic vaccination if possible and where supply allows at the earliest opportunity’.
Home visits ‘may be suitable for some children’ and arrangements must be made to vaccinate children in secure accommodation or residential care, it added.
Meanwhile, systems must ensure that they ‘develop the additional workforce and training requirements necessary’ to vaccinate children who are three months away from turning 18 ‘as soon as operationally feasible’, NHS England said.
‘Further guidance will follow on specific requirements’, it added.
And NHS England is developing capability for the national call and recall system to invite all those eligible in this group to book their jab through the national booking system (NBS), it said.
It added: ‘Local systems may already be in a position where they can begin to offer vaccination in advance of NBS going live. Where workforce and training requirements are in place, supply and capacity allows, we would encourage vaccination at the earliest opportunity.’
GP service specifications will be updated ‘following discussion and engagement with the professional bodies’ to ‘support delivery’, it said.
The letter also said that the national protocol and patient group direction (PGD) for the Pfizer vaccine are being updated to reflect the new JCVI advice, but eligible children aged 12-15 can only be vaccinated using a patient specific direction (PSD) in the meantime.
However, children within three months of their 18th birthday can be vaccinated under the current protocols and PGD ‘where this is necessary to support high vaccine uptake’, it added.
The letter added that GPs should keep an ‘unrelenting focus’ on second dose delivery throughout the summer, as well doing ‘everything we can’ to ensure as many people as possible receive their first dose.
Last week, the vaccines minister revealed that the Government has ordered additional doses of the Pfizer jab to vaccinate more than 370,000 children against Covid.
It is ‘not currently advising’ routine mass vaccination for the under-18s ‘based on current evidence’ but said it would keep data on the age group ‘under review’ over the next few weeks.