Parents have vowed to keep children at home to avoid them being “peer pressured” into having a Covid jab, while scientists warn half have not yet been exposed to the virus.
Family groups said that the law appears to give children the ultimate say over vaccination, with the confusion causing panic in families.
It comes after reports that Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, is planning to push through the rollout of jabs to all 12 to 15-year-olds.
This is despite the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation only recommending the vaccine for higher risk children of those ages.
In response, the Health Secretary ordered the UK’s four chief medical officers to conduct their own assessment, broadening their remit to take into account the effect of mass vaccination on school closures and teacher safety.
Whitehall insiders are confident that the group, led by Prof Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, will give a green light, with the NHS on standby to move quickly if approval is given.
“We have seen an incredible amount of concern among parents about the suggestion that parental consent for children as young as 12 may either be overridden or not needed if you are relying on Gillick competence,” said Molly Kingsley, the co-founder of the parent campaign group UsForThem.
“We have heard a lot of parents saying that if it happens they will keep their children off school for the duration of any vaccination programme.
“Were vaccination of children to happen on school premises without fully respecting the need for parental consent it would really prejudice parents’ trust in schools.”
Guidance circulated to NHS trusts says that most 12 to 15-year-olds should be deemed “Gillick competent to provide [their] own consent” over jabs.
That refers to a 1985 legal decision which ruled that a teenage girl could obtain contraception without her parents’ involvement.
Children who are deemed “Gillick competent” can give consent themselves, meaning that permission from parents would not ultimately be necessary for the Covid vaccine.
Teacher unions warned that the JCVI’s decision not to vaccinate healthy children could lead to further chaos in schools this autumn, if cases rise.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the decision will “make it more difficult during the autumn term and beyond to guard against educational disruption caused by transmission of the virus”.
Prof John Edmunds, an epidemiologist on the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said: “We need to take into consideration the wider effect that Covid might have on children and their educational and developmental achievements.
“Because if you think about it, in the UK now, it’s difficult to say exactly how many children haven’t been infected but it’s probably about half of them, so that’s about six million children.
“That’s a long way to go if we allow infection just to run through the population, that’s a lot of children who will be infected and that will be a lot of disruption to schools in the coming months.”
Prof Edmunds said it was likely that the return of schools and greater numbers of workers returning to offices will cause an increase in cases.
“It’s with a wider reopening of society that I think we’d expect to see, now summer’s over, organisations will be starting to expect their employees back at work in the office, and I think that employees want to go back to the office, and all of that will add to increased contact rates and increased risk in society.
“So I think we will see increased cases now in the coming months.”