Government set to defy JCVI advice and vaccinate healthy children 'from next week'

4 September 2021, 06:59 | Updated: 5 September 2021, 08:00

The JCVI did not recommend a mass roll-out of coronavirus vaccines to teenagers
The JCVI did not recommend a mass roll-out of coronavirus vaccines to teenagers. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Ministers are reportedly preparing to begin rolling out Covid vaccines to healthy 12 to 15-year-olds as early as next week, despite experts advising against jabs for healthy teenagers.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) announced on Friday that it was not recommending mass rollout of the vaccine to children aged 12 to 15 unless they had underlying health conditions.

While the panel of scientists said that the rollout of the jab should be extended out to the most at-risk children in this age bracket - for example, those with chronic major heart, lung, kidney, liver and neurological conditions - they concluded that the benefits of the jab for healthy children were marginal.

As a result, they did not make the recommendation purely on health grounds.

Read more: Vaccination of healthy children aged 12 to 15 not recommended by government advisers

Read more: Advice to not vaccinate healthy teenagers may 'strengthen' trust in science - JCVI member

The JCVI then advised the government to seek further input from the chief medical officers (CMOs) on the wider impacts of children not being vaccinated - for example, social impacts or knock-on effects on children's education.

The CMOs are now going to consider further evidence following a request by Health Secretary Sajid Javid and his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A final decision could be made in days.

The decision comes exactly a week after the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed preparations were under way to ensure the NHS was ready to offer coronavirus jabs to all 12 to 15-year-olds in England from early September.

The department had said it wanted to be "ready to hit the ground running".

On Thursday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he felt parents would find it "deeply reassuring" to have a choice of whether their children should have a jab or not, adding that many people hoped they would be in a position "of being able to roll out vaccinations for those who are under the age of 16".

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The government has said if all 12 to 15-year-olds were to be offered a vaccine, parental or carer consent will be sought as it is in other school immunisation programmes.

JCVI deputy chair Professor Anthony Harnden said there is "no precedent" for this particular situation, and added it was the committee's decision to suggest the government might seek further advice "as we don't have the expertise to assess the educational aspects".

Mr Javid said he was "grateful" for the expert advice from the committee.

He said on Friday: "Along with health ministers across the four nations, I have today written to the chief medical officers to ask that they consider the vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds from a broader perspective, as suggested by the JCVI.

"We will then consider the advice from the chief medical officers, building on the advice from the JCVI, before making a decision shortly."

There have been concerns about what the knock-on effects might be if children are not offered coronavirus vaccines.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said he is disappointed by the JCVI decision not to recommend jabs for all 12 to 15-year-olds.

He added that while they respect it, it could mean it is "more difficult during the autumn term and beyond to guard against educational disruption caused by transmission of the virus".