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NHS Highland chief is not expecting there to be a general Covid vaccination programme for children

By Scott Maclennan

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NHS Highland’s “major effort” in contact tracing led to 100 per cent of those with Covid and 97 per cent of their contacts being traced successfully, the director of public health Dr Tim Allison has revealed.

In a wide-ranging update for Highland Council’s education committee yesterday, Dr Allison revealed that there would not be a vaccination programme for school pupils or young people because the vaccines produced so far are not licensed for under 18s.

Instead the health board is likely to concentrate on the most vulnerable groups such as those over 80 and continue according to age groups but children and young people with underlying health issues are likely to be offered vaccination.

The key advice from NHS Highland at the moment regarding school-age children is if they are unwell at all not to go to school, but particularly those with the main three symptoms of temperature, cough, change in taste or smell.

So far major outbreaks have been able to be headed off since coming out of lockdown though there have been nearly two dozen clusters of various sizes – including one in Grantown – which have largely been headed off through the test and protect system.

Dr Tim Allison
Dr Tim Allison

The two vaccines that have recently hit the headlines give Dr Allison reason to be hopeful, saying: “With that vaccination programme we hope that in a matter of months we will have Covid well under control if we are being optimistic.

“The vaccines are not licensed for under 18s so we are not anticipating a vaccination programme for children so it is likely that children at higher risk with say neurological illnesses will be offered vaccination.

“But there won’t be a huge school vaccination programme so when the vaccination programme when it comes will concentrate on the most vulnerable so on the old in care homes in their 80s, gradually going down in age group.

When asked by Councillor Gordon Adam what percentage of contacts NHS Highland were able to trace, Dr Allison confirmed that in the last week it was 97 per cent, and the remaining three per cent were still being sought.

“Test and protect is a lot more effective when there is a lower incidence of the virus, so it won’t be as effective in the Central Belt, but we put a real effort into it here so we have got a 100 per cent follow up with cases and almost 100 per cent of contacts.

“In the school context it can be pretty difficult who the precise contacts are because of who moves about, who is on the bus and who sits where so it is not straight forward but we are able to do a very straight forward job.

“But by doing that it is the way to control the virus and because of that we haven’t found evidence of widespread transmission in schools or communities and what affects schools affects communities – travel, contact, not taking precautions.

“I suppose the most important thing of all is that if you are unwell – don’t go to school, we are getting a few atypical symptoms but the main three symptoms of temperature, cough, change in taste or smell are still sticking.”

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