Vaccination of all 12 to 15-year-olds not recommended - but final decision still to come

3 September 2021, 15:40 | Updated: 4 September 2021, 1:05

Government advisers say that the jab is not recommended for healthy children aged 12 to 15. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Coronavirus vaccines for healthy children aged between 12 and 15 are not being recommended by the government's advisers on health grounds alone, but ministers are yet to make a final decision.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has announced that it is widening the limited rollout to the most at-risk children in this age bracket who have underlying health conditions - including chronic major heart, lung, kidney, liver and neurological conditions.

However, it is not recommending mass vaccination of children aged between 12 and 15. This means that around 200,000 children with underlying health conditions will be invited to have a vaccine.

The JCVI has advised that the health benefits from vaccination are marginally greater than the potential known harms. It has advised the government to seek further input from the Chief Medical Officers on the wider impacts.

These impacts include on children's education, which has been drastically affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

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The UK's four chief medical officers (CMOs) are to consider further evidence following a request by Health Secretary Sajid Javid and his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Mr Javid said advice from the CMOs will be considered, building on advice provided by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), "before making a decision shortly".

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The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which is the UK's independent medicines regulator, has approved the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for people aged 12. This follows the vaccines passing stringent safety and effectiveness tests.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: "Our COVID-19 vaccines have brought a wide range of benefits to the country, from saving lives and preventing hospitalisations, to helping stop infections and allowing children to return to school.

"I am grateful for the expert advice that I have received from the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

"People aged 12 to 15 who are clinically vulnerable to the virus have already been offered a COVID-19 vaccine, and today we’ll be expanding the offer to those with conditions such as sickle cell disease or type 1 diabetes to protect even more vulnerable children."

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He added that he had written to the Chief Medical Officers to ask that they consider the vaccination of 12 to 15 year olds from a broader perspective, as suggested by the JCVI.

Mr Javid has asked the NHS to prepare to roll out vaccinations to 12 to 15 year olds.

It has been confirmed that parental permission will be sought just as with other school immunisation programmes.

So far, the vaccination programme is providing protection to 48 million people over the age of 16 across the UK - including over 48 million first doses and over 43 million second doses.

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Data from Public Health England and Cambridge University shows that vaccines have saved over 105,000 lives, prevented 143,600 hospitalisations and 24 million cases of coronavirus in England.

Scottish Health Minister Humza Yousaf said: "I want to thank the JCVI for today’s advice regarding vaccination for 12 -15 year olds."

He added: "I have agreed with the other three UK Health Ministers to write a letter asking the four Chief Medical Officers to consider this latest guidance and explore whether there is additional evidence to suggest it would be beneficial to offer vaccination to all 12 – 15 year olds. We have asked for this further work to be conducted as soon as possible."

Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann said: "I welcome the extension of the vaccination programme to include a wider group of children aged 12-15 years of age with underlying medical conditions.

"The importance of vaccination is evident and I would urge those who are eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible to help protect themselves and those around them."

This story is being updated