A final decision on whether to offer vaccinations to all healthy 12-15 year olds could be made within days, although counselors have decided against a mass introduction.
The UK’s four Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) are due to examine further evidence at the request of Health Secretary Sajid Javid and his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Mr Javid said advice from CMOs, building on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), would be considered “before any decision is made anytime soon”.
The JCVI has announced that it will expand the Covid vaccination program to more children between the ages of 12 and 15 with previous illnesses.
However, it does not recommend recommending vaccination to all 12-15 year olds, despite ministers saying they advocated a broader program and urged a quick decision.
The JCVI said that since coronavirus poses very little risk to healthy children, the marginal benefit of vaccination on their own health is not great enough to support mass vaccination from a purely health perspective.
The committee also said it was investigating the extremely rare occurrences of heart muscle inflammation known as myocarditis after Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
While the condition can result in short hospital follow-up times followed by usually rapid recovery, the JCVI has concluded that medium to long-term outcomes are still uncertain and more follow-up time is needed to get a clearer picture.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chairman of the JCVI’s Covid-19 Vaccination, said, “The JCVI believes that the overall health benefits of Covid-19 vaccination for healthy children aged 12-15 are slightly greater than the potential harm.
“As a precaution, this benefit range is viewed as too low to currently support a universal Covid-19 vaccination for this age group. The committee will continue to review the safety data as it emerges. “
JCVI Vice-Chair Professor Anthony Harnden said there was “no precedent” for this particular situation, adding that it was the committee’s decision to propose that the government seek further advice “as we lack the expertise to assess the educational aspects ”.
Mr Javid said he was “grateful” for the expert advice from the committee.
He said on Friday, “I wrote to the chief medical officers with health ministers from the four nations today to ask them to look at vaccination of 12-15 year olds from a broader perspective, as suggested by the JCVI.
“We will then consider the advice of the Chief Medical Officers, which builds on the advice of the JCVI, before making a decision shortly.”
The vaccination program will be expanded from the most vulnerable children to those with chronic severe heart, lung, kidney, liver and neurological conditions.
This means that around 200,000 more children will be invited to be vaccinated.
The decision comes exactly a week after the Department of Health and Welfare confirmed that preparations have been made to ensure the NHS is ready to offer coronavirus vaccinations to all 12 to 15 year olds in England from early September.
The ministry said it wanted to be “ready to get started right away.”
On Thursday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he found it “deeply comforting” to have the choice of whether to have their children stabbed or not to vaccinate anyone under the age of 16.
The government has announced that if all 12-15 year olds are offered a vaccine, parental or caregiver consent will be sought, as is the case with other school vaccination programs.
Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann said he agreed that the question of broader adoption “warrants further consideration”.
Welsh Government Health Secretary Eluned Morgan said she had asked the country’s chief medical officer “to provide guidance on the clinical and other health benefits of vaccinating this age group as soon as possible,” while Scottish Health Minister Humza Yousaf said asked for the check to be carried out “as soon as possible”.
Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) general secretary Geoff Barton said he was disappointed with the JCVI’s decision not to recommend vaccinations for all 12-15 year olds.
He added that while they respect it, it could mean that “during the fall semester and beyond, it will be more difficult to protect yourself from educational disruptions caused by the transmission of the virus”.
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