Ministers could go ahead with jabs for over 12s despite experts not recommending it

·3-min read
Kevin Mckeon, 14, receives his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at the Citywest vaccination centre in Dublin (PA)
Kevin Mckeon, 14, receives his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at the Citywest vaccination centre in Dublin (PA)

Ministers look likely to approve the coronavirus vaccine for all children aged 12 to 15, despite advisers not recommending it.

The Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JVCI) announced on Friday that it would extend the vaccine rollout to include another 200,000 children with health conditions in that age group.

However, sources say the government is considering whether to offer jabs to their healthy classmates too, despite the committee not advising it.

The JCVI stopped short of recommending the full rollout after investigating potential side effects, such as the extremely rare events of inflammation of the heart muscle, known as myocarditis, after Pfizer or Moderna vaccinations.

Jabs for 12 to 15-year-olds could be greenlit as soon as next week with the UK’s chief medical officers, including Chris Whitty, to make a final assessment within days.

The government is awaiting their advice before making a decision but ministers have indicated they are keen on authorising a wider rollout.

Labour has called for clarity on the matter to prevent further disturbance to children’s education.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said the government needs to take a clear decision and communicate it properly, calling for testing, ventilation and mask wearing too.

Schools could face a “lot of disruption” if the Covid jabs aren’t approved, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of SAGE, issued a stark warning about schools facing chaos if plans to vaccinate 12 to 15s are rejected.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we have to take into consideration the wider effect Covid might have on children and their education and developmental achievements.

“In the UK now it’s difficult to say how many children haven’t been infected but it’s probably about half of them, that’s about six million children.

“That’s a long way to go if we allow infection just to run through the population, that’s a lot of children who will be infected and that will be a lot of disruption to schools in the coming months.”

Professor Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI’s chairman of Covid-19 immunisation, said the group’s view was that the benefits of vaccinating the age group “are marginally greater than the potential harms” but the benefits were “too small” to support a universal rollout.

While myocarditis can result in short periods of hospital observation, followed by typically swift recoveries, the JCVI concluded the medium to long-term outcomes are still uncertain and more follow-up time is needed to get a clearer picture.

But wider opinion still remains divided.

Former chief scientific adviser Professor Sir Mark Walport said it was right to consider the wider benefits of vaccinating children as he suggested the potential for side effects could be outweighed by the benefits.

He said children‘s health “is also affected by their social environment, by their ability to go to school, by what happens in the family and so there are broader factors as well”.

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