Decision over vaccination of children 'within weeks'

Scientists on the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have sounded a note of caution over children aged 12 and over being given the jag, amid concerns that the risks of side effects could outweigh the benefits of being protected against a disease that barely affects them.

The recommendation will come from the JCVI
The recommendation will come from the JCVI

A senior member of the JCVI said that the panel will announce whether to recommend the jabs for secondary school age children within “weeks”.

But asked whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson wanted to see a decision before the start of the new term, in September for England, Wales and Northern Ireland and in August for Scotland, his official spokesman said: “Obviously we want all decisions to be made in good time. What would be wrong would be for us to publicly talk about deadlines for an independent body.”

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Asked whether the government was keen for a decision so it could plan its pandemic strategy for the next six months, the spokesman said: “As throughout the pandemic, we want to ensure that teachers and parents have enough time to plan, [but] we are not going to impose any deadlines on the independent JCVI.”

The UK medicines regulator, the MHRA, approved the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds a month ago, while it had already deemed it safe for 16 and 17-year-olds.

The decision now rests with the JCVI, which will make a recommendation to ministers.

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the JCVI, told Radio 4’s Today programme the committee was “looking at data very carefully”.

He added the panel needed to be “absolutely sure” that it was “sensible” to offer children the vaccine, adding: “JCVI are very aware of the issues surrounding . . .  both the pros and the cons of children. Clearly, we’re going to have to make a view on it over the forthcoming weeks.”

Prof Harnden echoed fellow JCVI member Robert Dingwall, who earlier this week tweeted that the vaccines had to be “exceptionally safe” in order not to do more harm than good.

And Professor Calum Semple, a member of the government’s Sage committee, said: “There’s very nuanced debate going on here, but at the moment I don’t think there’s enough evidence to support vaccinating children.”

However another JCVI member, Professor Jeffrey Almond, said teenagers needed to be vaccinated so that the UK could reach the benchmark for herd immunity.

Prof Almond said: “At the start of this we reckoned that you needed somewhere around 65 per cent to 70 per cent of the whole population to be immune in order to have that herd immunity which prevents the virus spreading.

“Because, with 80 per cent of the adult population (vaccinated), if that only represents 50 per cent of the whole population, we're still too low to prevent the virus spreading and it will spread in kids.

“So, I'm in favour, if we can and when we can, of vaccinating children as well so that the whole population is immune to the point where the virus can no longer circulate.”