Covid jab should be given to all 12-15 year olds, UK's chief medical officers say

By Ella Pickover, Jane Kirby and Sam Blewett & Mark Smith

All healthy children aged between 12 and 15 years old should be offered the coronavirus vaccine, the UK's four chief medical officers have concluded.

The CMOs were asked to assess the societal benefit of vaccinating this age group, including the impact the pandemic has had on education.

Their advice to ministers across the UK's governments is to recommend rolling out the first dose of the jab. If they give the programme the green light then more than three million children will be eligible.

Read more: Coronavirus infection rates, cases and deaths for all parts of Wales on Monday, September 13

In a joint statement to each of the UK's health ministers, the four CMOs write: "It is likely vaccination will help reduce transmission of Covid-19 in schools which are attended by children and young people aged 12 to 15 years.

"Covid-19 is a disease which can be very effectively transmitted by mass spreading events, especially with Delta variant. Having a significant proportion of pupils vaccinated is likely to reduce the probability of such events which are likely to cause local outbreaks in, or associated with, schools.

"They will also reduce the chance an individual child getting Covid-19. This means vaccination is likely to reduce - but not eliminate - education disruption."

Earlier this month the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) did not recommend mass vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds. JCVI experts said that Covid-19 presents a very low risk for healthy children so vaccination would only offer a "marginal" benefit.

They said the benefit to health was too small to support a universal vaccination programme but suggested that governments may wish to take further advice on the issue, including the educational impacts.

After assessing educational impacts, the CMOs' statement added: "Our view is that the additional likely benefits of reducing educational disruption, and the consequent reduction in public health harm from educational disruption, on balance provide sufficient extra advantage in addition to the marginal advantage at an individual level identified by the JCVI to recommend in favour of vaccinating this group.

"They therefore recommend on public health grounds that Ministers extend the offer of universal vaccination with a first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to all children and young people aged 12 to 15 not already covered by existing JCVI advice."

Wales' chief medical officer is Dr Frank Atherton (Welsh Government)

The statement added: " If Ministers accept this advice, UK CMOs would want the JCVI to give a view on whether, and what, second doses to give to children and young people aged 12 to 15 once more data on second doses in this age group has accrued internationally. This will not be before the spring term."

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are already approved for use among children aged 12 and over by the UK medicines regulator MHRA.

But only children with specific health conditions are currently eligible for the jab, as well as those who live in the same house as someone who is immunocompromised.

The JCVI also said it had investigated the extremely rare events of inflammation of the heart muscle, known as myocarditis, after Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

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

The Welsh NHS had already started preparing to roll out vaccines for all 12 to 15-year-olds in the event that the CMOs recommend the programme.

The CMOs' statement concluded: " If Ministers accept this advice, it is essential that children and young people aged 12 to 15 and their parents are supported in their decisions, whatever decisions they take, and are not stigmatised either for accepting, or not accepting, the vaccination offer. Individual choice should be respected."

Elsewhere, Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said that children should be offered the jab to prevent a winter wave of Covid-19 cases.

The scientist, from Imperial College London, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the UK had been leading in Europe on vaccination until recently but other countries such as Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Ireland "have got higher vaccination levels than us and that's largely because they have rolled out vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds faster than us".

Prof Ferguson said vaccinating teenagers with a first shot was the priority as the UK looks at dealing with any autumn and winter surges in Covid.

But he said evidence from Israel suggested booster shots for a wider population were "very effective at further driving down transmission and infection".

Data from the Office for National Statistics show that there are just under 3.2 million children aged 12 to 15 in the UK.

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