The UK’s Covid vaccination programme looks set to be rolled out to more than a million more teenagers, with new advice expected for 16 and 17-year-olds.
Boris Johnson’s government is expected to approve advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommending that healthy teenagers aged over 16 are offered the chance to get the jab.
The JCVI will make an announcement on Wednesday, and a change in the official guidance extending the vaccine roll-out to around 1.4 million teenagers in the age group is expected in the coming days.
Appointments could be available within a fortnight due to the reserves of the vaccine available, according to The Times. Reports indicate that 16 and 17-year-olds will be given the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to match guidance for other young adults.
The decision would come two weeks after the JCVI had recommended that children should not be routinely offered the jabs. But the four chief medical officers across the UK wrote to the JCVI asking them to look again at their advice.
Universities minister Michelle Donelan said ministers were expecting “imminently” an announcement from the JCVI on rolling out the coronavirus vaccine to more teenagers.
The minister denied any political pressure had been put on the JCVI to extend the roll-out to 16 and 17-year-olds. “That’s not how they operate,” she said on Wednesday.
Asked about giving 16 and 17-year-olds a vaccine, Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, told LBC: “Our data would support that in that we’d expect there to be a really good knock-on effect from extending the vaccinations for that group.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said extending the programme would reduce disruption to schooling.
“Anything that gives the reassurance to young people that they are being treated in the way that the adult population is and that their education won’t be disrupted to the extent it has been – that has to be welcomed,” he told the Today programme.
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has previously called for children as young as 12 to be eventually offered the vaccine, said she was “expecting” that the JCVI would soon outline updated guidance for teenagers.
Speaking to MSPs on Tuesday, she had suggested the decision could come on Wednesday. “We are waiting on JCVI advice. When I say ‘We’, I am obviously referring to the Scottish government – but the UK, Welsh and Northern Irish governments are in the same position.”
Labour has said vaccinating 16 and 17-year-olds was a “good idea” – but urged the government to plan the roll-out to teenagers carefully following reports that the JCVI was about to approve the move.
The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said: “With the JCVI apparently about to give the green light to vaccinating 16-year-olds, ministers need to ensure plans are in place to roll out this vital next stage of vaccination while ensuring parents have all the facts and information they need.”
The JCVI had previously ruled out blanket vaccination of healthy children. But existing guidance states that those aged 16 to 17 with underlying health conditions should have already been offered a jab.
More than 220,000 children in England have already had a Covid-19 vaccine, the latest figures show.
In June, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi announced that a number of under-18s would be eligible for the jab if they had certain health conditions, lived with someone who is immunocompromised, or were approaching their 18th birthday.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson has declined to confirm whether children will be routinely vaccinated, adding that it will be kept “under review”.