With the COVID vaccine being rolled out to 16-year-olds, officials are not ruling out jabbing otherwise healthy 12 to 15-year-olds.
On Wednesday the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised that 16 and 17-year-olds should be offered the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – the only COVID jab approved for use for people over the age of 12 in the UK.
Ministers across the UK have accepted the recommendation and the NHS is making preparations to start giving first doses in coming weeks.
And with the age range for vaccine extended, medics will now decide whether the jab should be rolled out to children aged 12 and over.
At present, children over the age of 12 are only eligible for a vaccine if they have certain medical conditions that put them at risk from COVID or are teenagers who live with people who are immunocompromised.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, said there was “no time to waste” in starting the extension of the vaccination programme, adding that he expects the rollout of first doses could be completed in an academic term.
He said it was “more likely, rather than less likely” that the list of eligible 12 to 15-year-olds would grow.
Watch: JCVI chair: Vaccines will not be offered to 12-15-year-olds at this stage
He told a Downing Street press conference: “Children are going to start going back to colleges and sixths forms from September, and in Scotland that will be slightly earlier, so there is no time to waste in getting on with this.
“Now we have the JCVI advice on starting that initial first dose in 16 and 17-year-olds, then I want us to proceed as fast as is practically possible. That isn’t going to be tomorrow, I don’t think it is likely to be early next week.”
Boris Johnson encouraged families to listen to the JCVI's advice, saying: “They are extremely expert there, they're among the best, if not the best, in the world, they know what's safe and I think we should listen to them and take our lead from them.”
Health secretary Sajid Javid added: “The JCVI will continue to review data and provide updates on at-risk groups aged 12 to 15 and whether any additional groups will be added.”
Sixteen-year-olds will be offered a first coronavirus jab in a matter of weeks and will not need the consent of their parents to get a vaccine.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, COVID chair for the JCVI, said: “While COVID is typically mild or asymptomatic in most young people, it can be very unpleasant for some and for this particular age group, we expect one dose of the vaccine to provide good protection against severe illness and hospitalisation.”
The JCVI estimates that young people will have 80% protection against hospital admission following receipt of their first dose.
Children who have had the vaccine in clinical trials and real world data suggest that some get short-lived side effects after vaccination, including fever, sore arm, headache and tiredness.
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