Britain’s vaccine watchdog is expected to announce within a matter of days that 16 to 17-year-olds will be eligible to receive a second Covid vaccine dose, The Independent understands.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has given its approval for around 1.4 million teenagers to come forward for a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine 12 weeks after their first jab.
This comes amid soaring case rates in the young. More than nine per cent of children in school years 7 to 11 were infected in the week ending 22 October, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Over the same period, 248,000 children were absent from school due to Covid-related reasons.
It’s believed that initial concerns within the JCVI regarding the low risk of vaccine-induced heart inflammation within 16 and 17-year-olds has been alleviated, with more data now available on this matter.
A Whitehall source told The Independent that an announcement regarding second Covid jab for the cohort is expected this week.
The latest data from NHS England shows that, up to 2 November, 56.5 per cent of 16 and 17-year-olds had received a first dose.
Experts said the rollout of second jabs will have the most benefit for those teenagers who have not yet been exposed to Covid-19.
Matthew Snape, an associate professor in paediatrics and vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said estimates suggested that around half of 16 to 17-year-old haven’t been infected by the virus yet.
“They are the group that might particularly benefit from a second dose,” he said. “A secondary kind of does really complete their immunisation course.”
The recently-published minutes from the JCVI show that “most of the benefits” of vaccination in 16 to 17-year-old “are accrued by the first dose, but clearly there is additional benefit accrued by the second dose,” Prof Snape added.
He said his Com-Cov3 study was investigating the advantages of ‘mixing and matching’ second vaccine doses for teenagers.
“We’re looking at immunising teenagers who previously had a Pfizer vaccine with either the same vaccine against the full dose, a one-third dose, a half dose of Moderna, or a dose of Novavax. So we’re looking at different options for second dose vaccination.
“The reasons for that are partly to do with what we know the second dose of Pfizer does have a bit of a kick in terms of expected reactions. So it’s good to look to see do we need that full dose? Or are there other options available and can we compare the immune reactions across these?”
Prof Snape said he hoped the findings of the study will go on to inform JCVI decision-making about what should be used as a secondary vaccine dose for teenagers in the future.
Professor Eleanor Riley, an immunologist at the University of Edinburgh, said the administration of a second vaccine dose in 16 and 17-year-olds will raise both their antibody and T cell responses and extend the duration of their immunity.
“However, as this age group is at such low risk of severe disease it is hard to know what impact it will have (if any) on hospitalisations,” she said.
“With the delta variant now dominant across the country, it is unlikely that a second dose will have a major impact on infection or transmission but it may help a bit.
“Also, the infection rate in that age group has been very high, suggesting that many of these young adults have already been infected - so their first dose of vaccine will already have boosted their infection-induced immunity.”
She added: “The initial JCVI decision was based on a balance of risks – risk of severe adverse events from the vaccine versus severe adverse events from Covid. They have more data now on the adverse events after second vaccinations in this age group (from countries where vaccination was rolled out over the summer) which may allay the concerns they had earlier in the year.”
The UK Health Security Agency said the JCVI continues to meet regularly to assess the latest data on the Covid-19 vaccines.