CUMBRIA'S Director of Public Health, Colin Cox, hosted a live Q&A session last night to answer questions on the vaccination of 12-15 year olds in the UK.

Hosted on the Cumbria County Council Facebook page, Colin Cox spoke live to concerned members of the public.

He explained that Cumbria's Covid rates are "reasonably stable", but are sat at around 400 cases per 100,000 population per week, which he described as "relatively high" compared to both historic standards and the England average.

Cases amongst secondary age pupils are particularly high. Whilst the county as a whole sits at around 400 cases per 100,000 population per week, secondary pupils sit at around 1,100 per 100,000 population per week.

Mr Cox said: "We have certainly a lot of schools currently experiencing incidents or outbreaks and there's quite a lot of challenge in helping schools manage incidents."

Across the county, 88 per cent of people aged 16 and over have had at least one vaccine and 83 per cent of them have had two vaccines.

Mr Cox said: "Even in the 16-17 year olds who have of course only recently been made eligible of this, we've got 64 per cent of that age group having at least one jab, so it is very clear that young people do want this."

Among 12-15 year olds, around 1500 people have already had the jab either because they themselves are vulnerable or because they live with somebody who is.

Mr Cox said: "The decision has been made nationally to roll that offer out to everybody else, all the 12-15 year olds regardless of whether they are vulnerable or not.

"Now initially that is going to be rolled out through the schools immunisation service so the same service that offers other school vaccinations and consent forms will be going out to parents today or tomorrow potentially.

Consent forms have already been sent out to parents in the county. The national requirement is that the program starts on the 22nd.

Mr Cox spent the rest of the Q&A answering questions from the public.

The first question asked why the government "ignored advice" from the JCVI to not give the jab to children.

Mr Cox said: "The government did not ignore JCVI advice, and the JCVI advice did not say that kids should not have the jab, what the JCVI said was that when you looked purely at the medical cost and benefit there was a benefit to children getting the vaccination, but they said that benefit from the medical perspective was small enough that they would not recommend a full national roll out under normal circumstances.

"What they then said was that they recognised that they were only looking at very narrow medical criteria and that there were a lot of other things that needed to be taken account of, for example, the impact on children’s education and that they felt the Government should ask the chief medical officers their advice on that broader prospective.

"That’s what the government did and the chief medical officers weighed up all the evidence – the medical evidence and the medical evidence of broader harm and benefit from things like education - and then they advised the Government that on the basis of that, it would be worth offering the vaccination to children."

Another member of the public asked if a 13-year-old child could overrule parental consent.

Colin Cox said: "In this initial round of school based immunisations the answer to that is going to be no. I do need to caveat that in all vaccinations, all medical treatment, there is a rule called Gillick Competence which broadly speaking says that somebody who people feel is competent to make decisions for themselves and at that sort of age can overrule parental consent. However, because of the rapid timescale of which we are rolling this out and the fact that this is quite contentious we have taken the decision that says we will not work with Gillick competence during the first round of this program. If we see a parent saying that they are not consenting and a child is saying they want it anyway it is our intention not to vaccinate that child in this round."