With the COVID vaccine rollout in the UK continuing apace, the government is on course to give at least one jab to the majority of adults by the summer.
The pharmaceutical giant has submitted efficacy data on its vaccine – a joint project with BioNTech – among 12- to-15-year-olds to the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
If approved, children could start to be offered the vaccine once other age groups have been covered by the rollout.
It comes as new data suggests that protection against death from the Pfizer vaccine rises to 97% after two doses. While children are less likely to fall ill with coronavirus, research suggests they are still able to transmit it.
Watch: US authorises Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds
What has the government said?
As yet, the government has not officially confirmed it intends to offer COVID vaccines to children, despite some reports saying they could be given from August.
Health secretary Matt Hancock has, however, said there would be a “value” in giving the jab to children.
In February he told Sky News that clinical trials were necessary to determine the safety and efficacy of giving the jabs to younger age groups.
Earlier this month, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the government was looking at “all the different contingencies to make sure that the easing-up of the restrictions… can be done in a safe and secure way”, when asked about vaccinating children.
The Department of Health and Social Care said it was awaiting the outcome of clinical trials.
A spokesperson said: “As we’ve already said, we are preparing for a booster programme to take place from the autumn and we continue to plan for all scenarios.”
They added that “no decisions have been made” on whether children should be offered vaccinations, and that they “will be guided by the experts once clinical trials have concluded”.
Professor Adam Finn, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, also said that more studies are needed and that “there has been no decision made to immunise children” from August.
However, The Sun reported last month that official documents showed plans were in place to vaccinate children from September, despite acknowledging it would be “controversial”, in an attempt to prevent another wave of COVID this winter.
What do the experts say?
With the risk of serious illness from COVID being low for children, experts appear divided on whether the jab should be offered to them.
Professor John Edmunds – a member of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) – has previously warned that until every age group has been vaccinated there will be "significant risk of a resurgence" of the virus.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ”I have two children myself, they are in secondary schools and I think that there has been major disruption at schools and there will continue to be major disruption in schools until we have vaccinated our children.”
Professor Adam Finn said earlier this month that “we need to be in a position to immunise children, particularly teenagers, promptly and efficiently if we need to”.
However, he added: “We should only be doing vaccine programmes when we need to do them.”
Watch: Vaccines cut transmission by up to half, study suggests
Dr Simon Clarke, an infectious disease expert at Reading University, told MailOnline that he “does not see any problem with vaccinating children”, but added that “it is only being done for wider society”.
Others in the medical community have urged caution when it comes to deciding whether to vaccinate children due to the “completely unknown and unknowable long-term risks”.
Anthony Brookes, professor of genetics and genome biology at the University of Leicester, added he believes it is “wrong and that the ethical case against it is paramount”, arguing that youngsters would develop natural immunity to COVID as they grew up.
Meanwhile, Professor David Livermore, from the University of East Anglia, warned that children “gain very little” from the vaccine but it “may run some small hazard to harm”.
Oxford University is carrying out a clinical trial on children aged six to 17 to test the safety and efficacy of its vaccine in younger age groups, with initial results expected in the summer.
What’s happening in the US?
This week, Pfizer was authorised to administer its COVID vaccine to children as young as 12 under an emergency-use authorisation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Until now, the authorisation was for teenagers aged 16 and over but now the process for full approval for those aged 12 and over has begun.
It came as FDA figures showed that some 1.5 million cases of coronavirus were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in youngsters aged between 11 and 17 between March 2020 and April this year.
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