The head of Scotland’s biggest teaching union said children over the age of five should be offered the Covid-19 vaccine to tackle the spread of the virus in schools.
Currently, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommends only those over 12 are offered a jab.
But Larry Flanagan, the general secretary of the EIS, said he wanted vaccines to be offered to younger school pupils.
The vaccine is not currently recommended by the JCVI for children between five and 12, however, the US has started to offer the jab to younger people.
Speaking before the Covid-19 Recovery Committee at Holyrood, Mr Flanagan said: “We are in favour of young people being offered that vaccine and we’ve said so at Serg (Scottish Education Recovery Group).
“I was surprised to discover at Serg that that there is apparently no licensed vaccines by age group in the UK at the moment, although clearly the USA have started vaccinating that particular group.
“Hopefully, there’s some work going on to make sure that a decision is taken to allow that age group to be vaccinated.”
He added: “Ultimately, we think offering the vaccination is a quicker and safer route than just allowing for herd immunity to develop over a longer period of time because that will be more disruptive to school education.”
While Mr Flanagan said he wanted to see offers of vaccination made, he said the ultimate decision would be made between young people and their families.
But Margaret Wilson, the chairwoman of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, said there were “quite huge concerns” from parents about the vaccine.
“Luckily, we work in partnership with Public Health Scotland to answer the parent’s concerns,” she said.
“But as Larry’s just said, it’ll be down to personal choice.
“As a forum will try and get clear communication for parents on their behalf, but I can’t see that there’s going to be any right answer to that.”
Mr Flanagan also said he would like to see face coverings remain in place in schools throughout the winter.
“The majority of our members feel that face coverings should be in place over the winter period,” he told MSPs, previewing a survey of teachers due to be released next week.
Mr Flanagan suggested that the face covering mandate in secondary schools could also be lifted when vaccination rates reach 90% in pupils.
Meanwhile, MSPs were told schools would be put in an “invidious” position if vaccine passports were required to access school events such as concerts and nativity plays.
Currently, only large events and nightclubs are required to verify vaccine status – after the First Minister announced this week the scheme would not be extended but would allow for a negative lateral flow test result to be used as a substitute.
All of those who appeared in front of the committee on Thursday, which also included Gary Greenhorn, the co-chairman of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES) and School Leaders Scotland general secretary Jim Thewliss, rejected the idea.
Mr Flanagan questioned if it would lead to schools becoming “gatekeepers” to events, adding: “I think you’d be placing schools in quite an invidious situation.”
He added: “Whilst I can see the validity in what you’re suggesting, it may actually be quite divisive, because some parents could get in and some would have to be turned away and I don’t think school leadership teams at this time really need that additional headache.”