TODAY is D-day for Glasgow schools as they return from the Christmas break.

Other Scottish councils are a day or two behind, but all children are expected to be back in the classroom by next Monday.

And the kids will be returning to school in the teeth of a renewed pandemic with the Omicron infection running riot at record levels. The Education Secretary says “it is our absolute priority to keep schools safely open and minimise further disruption to learning”. The teaching unions are understandably restive and signal that further action is necessary to prevent yet more infection and thus more disruption.

So let me put forward this question. Why are we not mobilising our schools for the vaccination of our children?

As a mother who made a fruitless visit to a vaccination hub last autumn, trying to get my own children partially protected (before eventual success) I am totally bemused as to why our schools are not the fulcrum of protecting our children, as they now are elsewhere in these islands.

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School-based vaccination has a long tradition in Scotland, stretching right back to diphtheria and whooping cough jags which started in the late 1940s. In the mid-1990s, the MR (measles/rubella) school campaign achieved huge success and took the measles virus to the brink of extinction. More recently yet in 2008, the Scottish Government – and not without opposition – introduced the HPV school-based vaccination programme for young girls, which is now offered to boys and girls alike.

Almost unnoticed in the present pandemic, the first full timeline study published at the end of last year showed that this initiative had dramatically reduced cervical cancer rates by almost 90% in women in their 20s who were offered it at age 12 to 13. This study confirmed earlier Scottish research in 2019 which concluded that Scotland’s HPV vaccination programme has led to “a dramatic reduction in pre-invasive cervical disease”.

As Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, noted: “Results like this show the power of science.”

Indeed they do, but what they also show is the power of organisation through the schools which ensured a near-universal take-up of the protection.

The advantages of school campaigns are obvious. It eliminates class distinctions in vaccine take-up. It is fair. Even when the programme is advisory rather than mandatory, as in the case of Covid-19, then the numbers who opt out are in small single-figure percentages. Furthermore, it is vastly more efficient to take the vaccine to the pupils rather than the kids to the vaccine.

Earlier this week, the Health Secretary urged 12-15 year olds to get vaccinated “before the return to school” with the eminently sensible explanation of the schoolroom as a key vector of infection.

No doubt many parents and children will heed his call, as I did yesterday with my youngest daughter. Unfortunately, many shall not – and even if the advice is followed, it will be nothing like as efficient as a school-based programme.

Back in the autumn, as a result of delay and deadlock in the UK vaccine advisory committee, our Scottish pupils were sent back to the classroom totally unprotected. The JCVI may be excellent for peacetime, but is clearly not fit for purpose in the wartime throes of a pandemic when there is a huge premium in decision-making which stays ahead of the viral curve.

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The UK, and Scotland in particular, has among the highest rates of vaccination in the world. We also have the highest recorded rate of Omicron infection. That is because we are basically relying on vaccination rather than serious public health measures as the means of viral control. The virus still has plenty of partially vaccinated or unvaccinated people to prey upon and right bang in the firing line are the children of Scotland.

The knock-on impact of that crucial autumn delay in vaccinating the young is with us still and will continue to haunt the vaccination programme. Even if the second jags are successfully administered in the next few days to teenagers, we know they will offer only partial protection against Omicron and it will be a further three months before the children can get boosted. And then there are the primary kids even further behind.

Over a month ago I observed, based on the practical patient experience of the South African doctor who discovered it, that we would probably “dodge the Omicron bullet”. This is coming to pass in the sense that this variant is hugely more infectious but basically causing infection of the throat and upper respiratory tract. It is accordingly much less potent, at least in its immediate impact.

There is no guarantee that the next inevitable variant will follow that pattern. Natural selection will tend to make it even more infectious but all bets are off as regards its health impact, short term and, of course, long term.

All the more reason to get a school-based programme up and running and give the maximum protection possible to the children of Scotland and their families.

And to do so now.