All children aged 16-17 will become eligible for Covid vaccination in the UK, following advice issued today.
The update from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). follows last month’s guidance expanding eligibility to children aged 12-15 who are deemed at ‘increased risk of serious Covid-19 disease’ or who live with someone who is immunosuppressed.
Vulnerable over-16s should already have been offered vaccination.
Public Health England said the review of guidance was based on ‘more safety data becoming available’ and ‘changes in the way Covid-19 has been spreading in the UK, particularly in younger age groups’.
Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is the only Covid jab authorised by the MHRA for use in teenagers in the UK.
But PHE acknowledged that ‘some serious side effects have been reported in this younger age group’, linked with the vaccine.
US regulators recently issued a warning of rare heart inflammation following Pfizer and Moderna jabs, but it still recommends that children are vaccinated.
The JCVI’s review of the side effects – myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the membrane around the heart) – found they were ‘extremely rare and usually occur within a few days of the second dose, typically more in young men’.
But it added that because Covid is ‘usually mild in younger people and so it is important to weigh up the benefits of any vaccine against the possible, although extremely rare, side effects’.
‘Prioritising the first dose and delaying the recommendation on the second, allows the JCVI to provide the best available advice with the latest available information for the second dose, whilst providing some immediate protection from severe disease’, the announcement said.
Therefore, ‘the aim is for the second dose to be given later and this will extend protection for a longer period’, at a 12-week interval following the first dose for 16-17-year-olds.
Unlike 12-15-year-olds, children aged 16 and older do not require parental consent to be vaccinated.
In a televised technical briefing this afternoon, deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said he expects vaccinations of 16-17-year-olds to start ‘within a very short number of weeks’.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘Today’s advice from the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) means more young people aged 16 and over can benefit from Covid-19 vaccines. I have accepted their expert recommendations and I have asked the NHS to prepare to vaccinate those eligible as soon as possible.
‘The JCVI have not recommended vaccinating under-16s without underlying health conditions but will keep its position under review based on the latest data.’
In May, Moderna also announced that its vaccine is effective in 12-18-year-olds after a study saw no cases of Covid-19 in those who had two doses, but it is yet to receive MHRA approval for this age group.