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UK ministers have urged the parents of teenagers to encourage them to get vaccinated against Covid-19, as high rates of the virus among schoolchildren continue to disrupt education.

Health minister Sajid Javid and education minister Nadhim Zahawi on Monday published an open letter to parents, asking for their “continued support” in ensuring children could stay in school by encouraging them to test themselves for coronavirus twice a week and come forward for the vaccine.

The intervention comes almost a month after vaccines were approved for 12-15 year olds, with parents required to give consent for their children to receive the jab at school.

Measures to control Covid-19 in schools, including requirements for children to isolate when in contact with others who had the virus, were removed when the new school year started in September. Children who test positive for Covid-19 or have a suspected case are still required to isolate, though, and 3.2 per cent were off school as a result of the virus at the end of last month.

Javid and Zahawi said thousands of 12-15 year olds had received the vaccine, adding it was the “best defence” against covid and made people “less likely to catch the virus and less likely to pass it on”. They said trials of the vaccine had shown it “works very well” for children and had a “good safety record”.

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, which represents school leaders, said one reason for the slow progress of vaccination in schools was that children were off school and unable to get the jab because they had Covid-19.

He said the government should consider a variety of measures to stop the virus spreading in schools in addition to vaccinations.

“Investment and guidance needs to be there for all the different measures we have available to us: testing, vaccination, isolation, and ventilation,” he said. “Only by pursuing a wide-ranging precautionary approach can we prevent illness from continuing to disrupt education this term.”

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