Covid vaccine rollout to be extended to 16-year-olds

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Watch: COVID-19: Decision to offer more than a million teenagers aged 16 and 17 coronavirus vaccines expected 'imminently', says minister

The mass vaccination of children against Covid-19 is set to get the green light, with approval given for 16 and 17-year-olds to receive the jab. 

The Telegraph understands the change in guidance will be announced on Wednesday after scientific advisers submitted their updated advice to Downing Street.

A well-placed government source said that those aged 16 and 17 will be advised to get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, matching guidance for other younger Britons.

It means more than a million children will be encouraged to get a Covid-19 jab, a move that the Government had held off from taking while awaiting more medical evidence.

America and some European countries are already vaccinating under-18s en masse, and have gone further than the UK is planning to at present by jabbing children as young as 12 in a bid to build up collective immunity in their populations.

The new advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) was being considered by Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, on Tuesday night.

One figure close to the Whitehall discussions stressed the process was entirely independent, with ministers simply following advice from “the best scientists in the world”.

A person is vaccinated against Covid-19 - AFP
A person is vaccinated against Covid-19 - AFP

The devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland set their own health policy, but on vaccinations the UK as a whole has moved as one, with a similar approach expected to be taken on this issue.

Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, hinted at the advice change yesterday, saying she was “hopeful” updated JCVI guidance on 16 and 17-year-olds was imminent.

She also called for children as young as 12 to be eventually offered vaccines, but indicated that those aged 16 and 17 would get approval first.

There are around 1.4 million people aged 16 and 17 in the UK, according to recent population estimates from the Office for National Statistics.

Government ministers have wrestled with the question of whether to encourage vaccinations for children for months.

Children are at a very low risk from Covid-19 themselves, according to leading scientists, but can catch and pass the virus, meaning they are a factor when countering future case surges.

Last month, the JCVI, a body of independent scientists, did not advise the mass vaccination of children, instead urging a more limited approach.

They advised children aged 12 to 17 who live with an immunosuppressed person, those aged 16 and 17 with underlying health conditions that make them Covid-19 vulnerable, and those aged 12 to 15 with severe neurodisabilities, to be jabbed.

Watch: Do coronavirus vaccines affect fertility?

At the time, the JCVI said they wanted to study more data coming in, with a line in the government announcement reading: “Until more safety data is available and has been evaluated, a precautionary approach is preferred.”

The expected change in guidance reflects the latest scientific thinking, according to a Government source.

The exact time when those children will be called forward to get their jabs remains unclear. All adults are expected to be offered both doses of the Covid-19 jab by mid-September.

It is understood Government ministers are confident that there are enough Covid jabs in stock to cover the expansion of those who are allowed to be jabbed across the UK.

There has been concern at the top of Government that jab uptake among 18 to 30-year-olds is yet to match those of older cohorts.

New efforts to drive up vaccination demand among young Britons will see them offered discounts on taxis, coffee and cinema tickets to convince them to get jabbed.

Boris Johnson has also publicly warned that vaccine passports may be mandated for nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather from the end of September.

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesman declined to confirm the change in advice, instead stating: “We continue to keep the vaccination of children and young people under review.”

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