All children in the UK should be eligible for a dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, health advisors said.
The country’s four chief medical officers today gave the go-ahead for an implementation in hopes that it will prevent a winter surge in school cases.
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All UK people over 16 have already had the vaccination, with 16 and 17 year olds receiving a “first” dose instead of two. Under the current rules, 12-15 year olds could only get it if they are considered clinically susceptible.
Conservative ministers are advised to accept the advice for a jabs rollout for all 12-15 that would begin on the school premises in a few days.
Parents are expected to be asked for consent before their child is vaccinated.
The Chief Medical Officers said that children ages 12-15 will only be offered one dose of the Pfizer vaccine for the time being.
The independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) is asked to provide further advice on whether 12-15 people should receive a second dose, but this advice is not expected before Christmas.
JCVI Covid-19 Chairman Prof. Wei Shen Lim, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and June Raine of the MHRA regulator are expected to give a press conference on Downing Street at 4 p.m.
It comes 10 days after the JCVI stopped recommending vaccination for all 12-15 year olds.
The JCVI weighs a child’s tiny risk of severe Covid disease against the tiny risk of a child developing a rare side effect called myocarditis.
The condition causes the heart muscle to become inflamed and reduce its ability to pump blood. The majority of the cases picked up so far had recovered from the illness.
The Chief Medical Officers came to different advice today because they considered the broader benefits to children’s education, as well as benefits to their health.
They found that mass vaccinating those over 12 years old will “likely” reduce Covid outbreaks in schools and reduce the likelihood of classes being closed.
The chief medical officers warned that the epidemic will be “persistent and unpredictable”: “Local flare-ups, including in schools, should be expected for some time. If they do, they are likely to be disruptive.”
It goes without saying that they do not see vaccinations as the “magic bullet” that will stop all outbreaks.
But it will help reduce disruptions in education – which CMOs see as critical after 18 months of disrupted learning – if further expected surges occur in the winter.
The CMOs consulted experts such as the Royal College of GPs and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and were advised by JCVI boss Prof. Wei Shen Lim.
Sources insisted that the JCVI and CMOs were not split and had just given different advice because they looked at different factors.
The Chief Medical Officers reached their conclusion without considering the benefit to adults – who are more likely to die from Covid – from vaccinating children.
This meant that they avoided the ethical dilemma of recommending vaccination to a child because it would protect someone else.
The CMO Council concluded: “The additional likely benefits of reducing educational interruptions and the resulting reduction in public health harm from educational interruptions provide, overall, sufficient additional benefit in addition to the marginal benefit identified by the JCVI at the individual level to in for vaccinating this group. “
A Health and Welfare Department spokesman said: “We have received advice from the four UK Chief Medical Officers to offer COVID-19 vaccination to young people aged 12-15.
“We will announce the government’s decision shortly.”