It’s been confirmed today that those aged 16 and 17 in the UK are on course to be offered Covid vaccines within weeks. The announcement came after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) unveiled new recommendations in favour of a first dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for this age group — stating that it would ‘provide good protection against severe illness and hospitalisation’. Sixteen and 17-year-olds will not require the consent of their parents to take up the offer — with a decision on whether a second dose will be required will be made later.
The announcement comes after Nicola Sturgeon appeared to let the cat out of the bag on Tuesday when she said she ‘expected’ an update from the JCVI imminently. It comes just two weeks after the JCVI recommended against the vaccination of over-12s — saying that the jabs ought to only be offered to those who are either clinically vulnerable or living with someone who is. Yet there was a hint in today’s press conference that this could soon change too. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has announced that the Pfizer jab is safe for those aged 12 to 15 and that the ‘benefits outweigh any risks’.
When questioned on the issue today, deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam said that he did not want to ‘rule in or rule out’ vaccines for that younger age group. Pressure to vaccinate this group will likely grow as the new school term approaches. As James noted in this week’s politics column, there are nerves in government over whether the return to the classroom will result in a surge in cases. At the time, one senior government source observed that the decision not to vaccinate teenagers does put the UK at a ‘structural disadvantage’ when it comes to trying to stop the spread of the virus.
Yet if the government and JCVI eventually green light vaccination for the over-12s it will raise some difficult questions. As I reported back in March, vaccinating children is viewed by governments across the world as helpful for the aim of achieving herd immunity. At the time, Nachman Ash, Israel’s national vaccine coordinator, said: ‘The fact that children under the age of 16 are not currently getting vaccinated is certainly troubling, in terms of the ability to achieve herd immunity.’ Yet the primary reason a child will receive a vaccine is to protect adults rather than their own protection. The issue will become particularly contentious if there is an effort to bring vaccine passports into settings for children.
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