Children over 12 should get COVID vaccine 'quickly', says former government chief science adviser

Watch: Vaccine programme 'should be rolled out to over-12s quickly'

The coronavirus vaccination programme for children over 12 should be rolled out “quickly”, a scientist has said.

Sir David King, the government’s former chief scientific adviser, also said a rethink on face masks in schools was needed.

Sir David, chair of the Independent Sage group, warned that the rising number of cases in the UK is evidence of a third wave of the virus.

According to the latest government figures, there were 5,341 cases reported in the UK in a 24-hour period on Sunday, amid concerns about the Delta variant, which originated in India.

There were 33,496 cases in the seven days between 31 May and 6 June, an increase of 49% – or 11,022 cases – from the previous week.

Nicolas (last name withheld), 15, receives his first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from a register nurse at the Northwell Health Vaccine Center Bedford Hills Community Site in Bedford Hills, NY, May 16, 2021. The United States expanded vaccine eligibility to ages 12-15 as the CDC authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer COVID-19 on May 10. (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)
Children aged 12 to 15 are already being given COVID jabs in the US. (PA)
A healthcare worker prepares a dose of Pfizer, coronavirus (Covid-19) vaccine at a vaccination centre in London. (Photo by Dinendra Haria / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
The Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use among 12- to 15-year-olds in the UK. (PA)

On Friday, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for use in children aged 12 to 15.

It is now up to the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to decide if this age group should receive jabs as part of the ongoing rollout.

In the US, more than 170 million people have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine, 3.3 million of whom are aged 12 to 15, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Reports at the weekend suggested that over-25s will be offered their first jab this week, and that over-40s could be given their second doses within eight weeks rather than 12 as originally planned.

Since 17 May, under England’s lockdown easing, pupils in secondary schools are no longer required to wear face masks in classrooms.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Pupils at Copley Academy wears face masks in class on March 09, 2021 in Manchester, England. England's schools re-open to pupils from March 8th, 2021 after closing for a third lockdown on Tuesday, January 5th, 2021. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
Pupils in England no longer have to wear face masks in classrooms. (Getty)

Sir David told Sky News on Monday: “The Pfizer vaccine has already been given the green light in this country to over-12-year-olds.

“I think we should run that programme forward quickly.

“But we’re opening schools today and the government has said 12- to 18-year-olds no longer need to wear face masks at school – I don’t think that was a wise thing to do and I do hope the government will rethink this in the light of the current figures.”

He also questioned if the government has a “herd immunity policy” among teenagers.

Calling on the government to announce a delay to the planned 21 June unlocking, he said: “(There are) 5,300 new cases of the disease per day in the United Kingdom and we’re up about 2,000 on last week.

“Now we’ve been discussing whether or not we’re going into a serious third wave and I don’t think we can possibly wait any longer.

“This is the evidence of another wave appearing.”

Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh and an adviser to Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, said children aged 12 and over should be vaccinated.

She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Monday: “If we want schools to continue without disruption in the autumn and lift restrictions so children can have a normal experience, we need to vaccinate them, and if we wait and watch for the evidence it will be too late in the next few weeks.

“We have the supply – it’s not a large amount, it’s a couple of million doses to cover that population of 12-plus.

“And we can’t use AstraZeneca – the main supply we have – in younger age groups, so we should export AstraZeneca and help countries abroad, send those doses, as well as focusing on our adolescents to make sure they don’t have another year disrupted, because that would be an absolute shame.

“Children can still get long COVID and can still be chronically ill from this.

“We might as well just do it, roll it out in the summer, get those kids covered so secondary schools can go back, normally, this autumn.”

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When asked about vaccinating children, Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol and a member of the JCVI, told the programme: “We need to be driven by the evidence and decide whether or not to immunise children when it becomes clear whether that’s actually something that’s needed.

"And at this point we’re not sure about that.

“The issue is not that there’s a problem doing it, it’s just a question of whether we need to do it, given the very low incidence of serious illness in children and the fact that we’re achieving so much with the adult programme at the moment with very high coverage.

“If indeed it turns out that children can be indirectly protected by the immunity that we induce in adults then there’s clearly no justification for immunising – or at least immunising all of them.”

Last month, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group said giving COVID vaccines to young and healthy people in rich countries was "morally wrong".

Watch: Latest figures 'evidence' of third wave, says former government adviser