A secondary school in Devon has already sent home 32 of its Year 7 pupils after they all tested positive for Covid just days into the first term of the new academic year, the headmaster admitted.
Ilfracombe Academy said there have been a total of 38 virus cases since children in England returned to school again last week.
In a letter to parents, headmaster Steve Rogers said the school is encouraging household members aged 11 and over to continue with twice-weekly testing to ‘help identify cases promptly’.
The school had also informed parents that each of its classrooms have been fitted with their own dedicated mechanical ventilation system to provide fresh, clean air directly from outside.
It comes as the four Chief Medical Officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland today endorsed plans to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds against Covid from as early as next week.
Chris Whitty and his three counterparts said a secondary school rollout would help prevent further disruptions to education this winter. Schoolchildren have been forced to endure learning from home and an end to exams due to Covid restrictions including shutdowns.
In his letter, Mr Rogers said: ‘Unfortunately, today we have recorded 32 positive LFD tests in Year 7 and one positive in Year 8. These students have been sent home to book a PCR test.
Ilfracombe Academy in Devon (pictured) has confirmed 32 of its Year 7 pupils tested positive for Covid-19 just a few days after returning back for the start of the new school year last week
It comes as the four Chief Medical Officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland today endorsed plans to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds against Covid from as early as next week
‘Yesterday we also informed you of three students that have had a positive PCR test that have not been in school, and two students that have been in school this term.
‘We have been in communication with PHE today.
‘They have advised that at this stage our setting should not take any further action.
‘There are a few students that have tested positive with a PCR test over the summer holiday and as they don’t have any current or new symptoms, they would still be able to come back into school on Monday.
Ilfracombe Academy Headteacher Steve Rogers
‘The guidance states that anyone who has previously received a positive Covid-19 PCR test result should not be re-tested within 90 days of that test unless they develop any new symptoms of Covid-19.
‘We know that you may find this concerning and we are continuing to monitor the situation working closely with Public Health England.
‘This letter is to inform you of the current situation and provide advice on how to support your child.
‘Please be reassured that for most people, coronavirus (COVID-19) will be a mild illness.
‘The Ilfracombe Academy remains fully open and your child should continue to attend as normal if they remain well.
‘We encourage household members that are aged 11 and over to continue with twice-weekly LFD testing to help identify cases promptly.’
He added: ‘Recently serviced, our system is running at full capacity to ensure that students and staff are receiving the best possible ventilation.
‘Of course, when it comes to fresh air there is no substitute for open windows.
‘Here at The Ilfracombe Academy, we maintain a policy of open windows and doors throughout our school to further promote airflow.
‘Fresh air, from both mechanical and natural sources, ensures that the students, staff and visitors to our school can breathe easy as they go about their day.’
Under-16s will initially only be offered a single dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, shown to be up to 55 per cent effective at preventing infection from the so-called Delta variant
Latest estimates from a symptom-tracking app suggested under-18s had the highest number of Covid cases in the UK (blue line) last week. Schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland started going back on September 1. The data is from the ZOE Covid Symptom Study
Figures from Public Health England show cases in children aged 10 to 19 spiked by 42 per cent in a week from 478.3 per 100,000 to 681.4 in the week ending September 5. This was nearly six times higher than the 114 cases per 100,000 in over-80s — down 1.2 per cent from the week before — and 145.8 in 70- to 79-year-olds — which remained flat
Under-16s will initially only be offered a single dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, shown to be up to 55 per cent effective at preventing infection from the so-called Delta variant.
A decision on second doses is still to be determined, when more data is available internationally. Officials will weigh up the risk of heart complications after vaccination, which are slightly more common after the second shot.
Doses will be largely administered through the school vaccination programme, and it’s believed parental consent will be sought – but children will be able to overrule their parents in the case of a conflict.
The chief medical officers said that even though Covid poses a small risk to children’s health, the negative impacts of school closures on their life prospects and mental wellbeing tipped the balance in favour of vaccination.
If the recommendation is accepted by ministers, it will mean that around 3million more youngsters will be offered a vaccine from as soon as next week. The jabs will be rolled out as part of the school vaccination programme.
Professor Whitty and the CMOs in the devolved nations were asked to look at the ‘broader’ societal benefits of vaccinating schoolchildren at the start of the month after the Government’s advisers ruled against the move.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said immunising healthy under-16s would only provide ‘marginal’ benefit to their health, and not enough to recommend a mass rollout.
But it advised the Government to seek further advice from its chief medical officers about the wider benefits of vaccination on the pandemic, which was beyond the scope of its review.
Should we jab 12-year-olds? Experts say it’s ‘unethical’ to vaccinate children to protect adults from Covid and claim kids may get ‘better immunity’ if they catch virus naturally – but others warn of school closures and lockdowns
Scientists are at war over whether the UK should be routinely vaccinating children.
Experts pushing back against the plans argue that it would be ‘ethically dubious’ to jab children solely to protect adults, because Covid itself poses such a tiny risk to youngsters.
Others believe it is better for children to catch Covid and recover to develop natural immunity than to be reliant on protection from vaccines, which studies suggest wanes in months.
Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline: ‘It is one thing to say have a vaccine to protect your health, but quite another thing to persuade you to have a vaccine to protect my health. One is entirely ethical and the other is dubious.’
And Professor David Livermore, a medical microbiologist at the same university, said natural infection could be a ‘a better first step in the lifelong co-existence’ with the virus than rolling out the jabs.
But the move to jab healthy kids for Covid has been backed by several experts who warn that letting the virus rip through schools could result in more disruptions to education and force lockdown restrictions to be rolled back.
Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at Reading University, told MailOnline today that he would feel comfortable vaccinating children so long as their parents consented.
He said the wider benefits to keeping schools open and infection rates low outweighed any small risks of side effects from the jabs.
In a letter written to the Education Secretary earlier this month, a group of scientists said the wider effects curbs would have on children’s learning, health and wellbeing meant it was ‘reckless’ to send secondary children to classes unvaccinated.
Children have only a small risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid and a vanishingly small chance of death, while the jabs are associated with rare cases of myocarditis in young people.
Professor Hunter said today he was against vaccinating children. He told MailOnline: ‘The issue around whether we should be vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds is whether there is enough vaccine to go around people who are vulnerable worldwide.’
Professor Hunter added that as the direct benefit of vaccines to children was small because Covid is a mild illness for the overwhelming majority of them.
He said he would prefer to see the doses shipped to developing nations which are struggling to get first doses to vulnerable people.
And he raised doubts about whether it was ethical to vaccinate children against a mild disease in the first place.
‘If we are going to be vaccinating these children it has got to be in their interest, not in ours,’ he said.
‘It is one thing to say have a vaccine to protect your health, but quite another thing to persuade you to have a vaccine to protect my health. One is entirely ethical and the other is dubious.’
Professor David Livermore, a medical microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, said last week that the world will need to live with Covid for years if not decades — so having a generation of children with natural immunity would help prevent cases spiralling later down the line.
He said natural infection could be a ‘a better first step in the lifelong co-existence’ with the virus than rolling out the jabs.
Dr Simon Clarke (left), a microbiologist at Reading University, told MailOnline today that children should be vaccinated ‘with their parents’ consent’ because the benefits outweighed the risk of side-effects. He pointed to other countries where the jab has been rolled out to the age group with no safety issues. SAGE adviser Professor Calum Semple has said children should be inoculated in order to avoid further disruption to their education
He added: ‘There is no direct reason to vaccinate children and adolescents against Covid. They are extremely unlikely to suffer severe disease if infected.
‘Rare but serious side effects have been associated with the vaccines, including blood clots and myocarditis. For older adults and the vulnerable, these are small hazards compared with those from Covid infection, and being vaccinated is obviously prudent.
‘But for children the risk/benefit ratio is far less clear, and may reverse. The JCVI initially were against vaccinating children on this logic and have provided no clear reason for a change of view.
‘Taking these three points together I can see no good reason to vaccinate under-18s, let alone 12-year-olds.’
And Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London, told MailOnline vaccinating children would ‘use up’ Britain’s supply of jabs designated for boosters for the clinically vulnerable this winter.
Professor Spector said while vaccinating would reduce cases ‘in an ideal world’, in the immediate term it could take up supply intended for booster shots to older, more vulnerable people who’s own immunity from vaccines given earlier in the year may be on the wane.
He added: ‘With vaccinating children you are going to reduce numbers of infections, but if you do that that means you use up your boosters and so you risk more deaths and hospitalisations at the other end of the spectrum.
‘In the ideal world I would be in favour of doing both [booster shots for the elderly and vaccines for over-12s] but I definitely think we should be giving boosters to kids that have had natural infections.’
But an equal number of scientists say that vaccinating children would have indirect benefits to them, such as keeping them in education and avoiding future lockdowns which took a toll on young people’s mental health.
Scientists were at war over vaccinating children against Covid today. Professor David Livermore (left) says it is ‘plausible’ that immunity from natural infection could last longer for children but Professor Devi Sridhar (right) says the virus could rip through the country again
A group of 12 scientists on Independent SAGE – a group which has attacked the Government for not being strict enough in controlling the virus – wrote to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson today to call for children to receive the vaccine for exactly that reason.
In the letter published in the BMJ they argued that policies in England mean there will soon be a large population who are ‘susceptible’ to the virus mixing in crowded spaces with ‘hardly any mitigations’.
They said children have suffered ‘significant harms’ on their education and wellbing in the pandemic and added: ‘Allowing mass infection of children is therefore reckless.’
Earlier school reopenings in Scotland and the US have shown that a lack of ‘adequate mitigations’ is likely to lead to the virus spreading among children, which could further disrupt learning with significant absences due to student and staff illness, they said.
‘England’s policies mean that we will soon have a large susceptible population with high prevalence of infection mixing in crowded environments with hardly any mitigations.’
Other signatories include members of the Parent SafeEdForAll group and the National Education Union.
Dr Clarke told MailOnline: ‘As long as the data that exists is that there is no greater harm from giving children jabs then children should get vaccinated, with the caveat that there is parental choice.
‘There have been suggestions that the Americans, the Irish, care less about their children than we do — of course they don’t. They are very sensitive about this issue as well.
‘I see no evidence that there is a problem with vaccinating children.’
He said the decision not to inoculate children before they returned to school was a ‘missed window of opportunity’ because the jabs could have reduced transmission of the virus.
SAGE adviser Professor Calum Semple, from Liverpool University, echoed the scientist’s views, saying that without vaccines children faced yet more ‘disruption’ to their education in the new academic year.
The Liverpool University expert told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘If you treat children the same way you do with adults, where if you have got double vaccination you no longer need to isolate, that would then allow us to have schools carrying on without such disruption.
‘I think we need to look at vaccinating these children not just as an individual benefit but a benefit to the root, a benefit to the whole of society and school and the education system.’
Source: Daily Mail UK