All 16 and 17-year-olds in the UK are to start receiving a first dose of COVID vaccination within weeks, the Government has announced. The move follows a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and follows the successful rollout of the vaccine to teenagers in Israel, japan and the US, and the announcement of similar plans from France and Spain.
‘There is no time to waste in getting on with this,’ said Professor Jonathan Van Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer highlighting that school and college terms will resume soon. ‘I want us to proceed as fast as is practically possible.’
Previously children over 12 have been able to access jabs if they are in a vulnerable group, or live with people in a vulnerable group. But the JCVI has held off on introducing a wider roll-out while it studied the risks of side effects, including the possibility of heart problems.
While children are much less likely to be affected by COVID-19 than adults, experts want to break the transmission chain in households and schools ahead of an expected winter surge, with the added complication of an expected rebound in respiratory illnesses suppressed by lockdown.
The only vaccine currently approved for under-18s in the UK is Pfizer-BioNTech, but Professor Van-Tam says the UK holds enough stock for the task. ‘We have the supply and I'm expecting this to start in a very short number of weeks indeed,’ he said.
But the announcement was criticised by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) who pointed out there were still no plans in place to vaccinate vulnerable 12- to 15-year-olds, despite an announcement to the effect in mid-July.
‘The rollout of the vaccine programme for adults has been incredibly impressive, but for children and young people it has been frankly shambolic,’ said RCPH president Dr Camilla Kingdon. ‘This is the second announcement around vaccinations for children or young people in the last three weeks, but we still haven’t seen detailed plans for rollout of the first.’