UK Government Approves Coronavirus Vaccines for 12 to 15 Year Olds to ‘Reduce Disruption’ in Schools

A medical worker prepares a syringe prior to vaccinate a teenager with a dose of Pfizer BioNTech vaccine against the Covid-19 at the Bernard de Ventadour middle school college in Privas, southeastern France, on September 6, 2021. (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP) (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP via Getty Images)
PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP via Getty Images

The UK’s chief medical officer announced on Monday that children from the ages of 12 to 15 years old will be offered coronavirus vaccines in England.

Announcing the long-anticipated ruling, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said on Monday that the government made the decision upon assessing “what effect this will have on transmission in schools and effects on education,” adding: “It’s a useful tool to reduce the disruption.”

Children over the age of 12 will be offered a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine “as soon as possible,” England’s deputy CMO Jonathan Van-Tam said per Sky News.

The decision came after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) decided to not recommend a mass vaccination programme for children, effectively leaving it up to the respective governments of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to make their own decisions without the backup of the scientific body.

The JCVI said that while it concluded that the benefits of vaccinating healthy children were “marginally greater” than the potential known harms of the vaccine, the committee said: “The margin of benefit is considered too small to support universal vaccination of healthy 12 to 15-year-olds at this time.”

Despite not recommending the vaccination programme for children, the JCVI said that it was not in the committee’s “remit to consider the wider societal impacts of vaccination, including educational benefits.”

The question of vaccinating the young in Britain has been contentious, with a study in July finding that children represented only 0.005 per cent of all coronavirus deaths in the UK. At the time of the study, only 25 children had died since the beginning of the pandemic, 19 of whom had underlying health conditions.

One of the researchers in the study, Imperial College’s Dr Elizabeth Whittaker said: “This data would suggest you have to have a very low risk of the vaccine to justify giving it to all healthy children.”

As with most decisions surrounding the coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has expressed conflicting opinions on which way to go, and in this case over whether children will be able to have the vaccine without the consent of their parents.

However, last week Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that children will ultimately be given the final decision, saying: “We’re going to ask all parents for consent… If they don’t give consent.. and there’s a difference of opinion between the child and the parent, then we have specialists that work in this area in the school’s vaccination service that would usually sit down with the parent and child and try to reach some kind of consensus.

“If ultimately that doesn’t work, as long as we believe the child is competent enough to make this decision, then the child’s will will prevail.”

The vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds has been championed by ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson, who said on Monday that it should be the top priority for the British government heading into the winter months.

The Imperial College London epidemiologist — who resigned in disgrace from his government advisory position last year after breaking his own lockdown rules to meet with his married lover, only to be later rehired by the Boris Johnson government — urged the government to press on with vaccinating 12 to 15-year-old children.

Speaking with the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Prof Ferguson said that vaccinating the young should be the “initial priority, just because it’s going to take six to eight weeks to starting before those teenagers have had two doses.”

The controversial professor continued by noting that other European nations, such as France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain “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.

Last month, Ferguson was forced to admit that his prediction of a summer wave of the Chinese coronavirus had been “off”. The disgraced professor’s dire warnings at the beginning of the pandemic — forecasting up to 510,000 deaths in the UK if the government didn’t lock down the country — were seen as instrumental in implementing lockdowns throughout the world.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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