NHS draws up plans to start vaccinating children as young as 12

NHS England draws up plans to start vaccinating children as young as 12 in two weeks WITHOUT their parent’s consent — but No10’s scientific advisers are still refusing to OK the move

  • NHS Trusts were told yesterday to prepare to jab 12 to 15-year-olds in two weeks
  • Britain’s medical regulator says Pfizer and Moderna jabs can be used in group
  • But the JCVI is yet to give the green light to inoculating secondary school pupils 

The NHS has drawn up plans to offer Covid vaccines to children as young as 12 when schools return, it emerged today.

Health officials have said children would not need to get parental consent to be inoculated against the virus.

NHS England yesterday told trusts to be ready to expand the roll out to 12 to 15-year-olds in just two weeks’ time.

Britain’s medical regulator has already said the Pfizer and Moderna jabs are safe and effective for the age group.

But the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) — which directs the country’s jabs roll out — is yet to give the green light to the plans. 

The NHS is gearing up to administer the doses in case it is asked to roll them out next month when schools return.

But the JCVI is unlikely to say children should be jabbed, because it says the benefits of inoculating the age group do not outweigh the risks.

The Department of Health — which asked the JCVI for a recommendation on jabbing the age group — said a decision is yet to be taken.  

Both Moderna and Pfizer’s jabs have been linked to myocarditis, a rare heart problem believed to affect around one in 20,000 young people.

The JCVI has claimed the risk of heart inflammation still outweighs the benefit of Covid jabs for healthy under-16s. It is closely monitoring data from America, France and Canada which have all decided to routinely jab under-12s already.

AstraZeneca’s jab is not being recommended for under-40s in Britain because it has been linked to very rare blood clots.

All 16 and 17-year-olds are already being invited for the Pfizer vaccine and don’t need permission from a parent or guardian to get one. But only under-16s who live with vulnerable people or who have immune weaknesses themselves are being invited at present.

Britain’s daily Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths have been slowly climbing for weeks, raising alarms over a fresh wave when schools return. 

The NHS is drawing up plans to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds in England, reports suggest.

Britain’s national roll out has already inoculated almost nine in ten adults in the country

NHS England’s regional offices emailed trusts yesterday to tell them to draw up the plans, reports The Telegraph.

They were told to have the plans ready by 4pm on Friday, and be able to roll out the first doses to the age group from September 6 when schools return. 

Emails revealed the aim is to inoculate three quarters of 12 to 15-year-olds by the date November 1.

They also say children should be deemed ‘Gillick competent to provide own consent’ over jabs. This refers to a legal decision in 1985, which ruled that a teenage girl could obtain contraception without her parents’ involvement. 

The JCVI has previously insisted there is not enough data to support a roll out in this group. But the newspaper reports further research on this is about to be published. 

Vaccine advisers in the UK are being ‘very cautious’ when it comes to widening the jabs rollout but ‘waiting and watching costs time’, a public health expert has said.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has not yet advised on widening the rollout to healthy teens in the 12-15 age group.

Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think the issue is they (the JCVI) are being very cautious.

‘They’re waiting and watching and I guess the issue with a pandemic is that waiting and watching costs time.

‘And time is the currency now that matters because it’s not like we can wait and watch and in six months say “OK, it’s safe, let’s vaccinate”.

‘In those six months if a large percentage of 12 to 15-year-olds get infected, in some ways they’ve lost that window of time and so I think perhaps they don’t feel the urgency that they should be feeling given it’s an emergency situation and we have Delta, which is so infectious. I mean, it’s just flying through schools as we know.

‘But not just here, Germany, Denmark, even places like New Zealand and Australia are struggling with Delta compared to the original virus.’

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: ‘No decisions have been made on vaccinating 12-15 year olds and it is inaccurate to suggest otherwise. 

‘Ministers have not yet received further advice from the JCVI on this cohort. We continue to plan for a range of scenarios to ensure we are prepared for all eventualities.’

WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF VACCINATING CHILDREN?

Pros

Protecting adults 

The main argument in favour of vaccinating children is in order to prevent them keeping the virus in circulation long enough for it to transmit back to adults.

Experts fear that unvaccinated children returning to classrooms in September could lead to a boom in cases among people in the age group, just as immunity from jabs dished out to older generations earlier in the year begins to wane.

This could trigger another wave of the virus if left unchecked, with infection levels triggering more hospitalisations and deaths than seen during the summer. 

Avoiding long Covid in children

While the risk of serious infection from Covid remains low in most children, scientists are still unsure of the long-term effects the virus may have on them.

Concerns have been raised in particular about the incidence of long Covid — the little understood condition when symptoms persist for many more weeks than normal — in youngsters.

A study released last night by King’s College London showed fewer than two per cent of children who develop Covid symptoms continue to suffer with them for more than eight weeks.

Just 25 of the 1,734 children studied — 0.01 per cent — suffered symptoms for longer than a year. 

Cons

Health risks

Extremely rare incidences of a rare heart condition have been linked to the Pfizer vaccine in youngsters.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) in the US — where 9million 12- to 17-year-olds have already been vaccinated — shows there is around a one in 14,500 to 18,000 chance of boys in the age group developing myocarditis after having their second vaccine dose.

This is vanishingly small. For comparison, the chance of finding a four-leaf clover is one in 10,000, and the chance of a woman having triplets is one in 4,478.

The risk is higher than in 18- to 24-year-olds (one in 18,000 to 22,000), 25- to 29-year-olds (one in 56,000 to 67,000) and people aged 30 and above (one in 250,000 to 333,000). But, again, this is very low.

Britain’s drug regulator the MHRA lists the rare heart condition as a very rare side-effect of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

They said: ‘There have been very rare reports of myocarditis and pericarditis (the medical term for the condition) occurring after vaccination. These are typically mild cases and individuals tend to recover within a short time following standard treatment and rest.’ 

More than four times as many hospitalisations were prevented as there were cases of myocarditis caused by the vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds, the health body’s data show.  

Jabs should be given to other countries

Experts have also claimed it would be better to donate jabs intended for teenagers in the UK to other countries where huge swathes of the vulnerable population remain unvaccinated.

Not only would this be a moral move but it is in the UK’s own interest because the virus will remain a threat to Britain as long as it is rampant anywhere in the world.

Most countries across the globe are lagging significantly behind the UK in terms of their vaccine rollout, with countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America remaining particularly vulnerable.

Jabs could be better used vaccinating older people in those countries, and thus preventing the virus from continuing to circulate globally and mutate further, than the marginal gains to transmission Britain would see if children are vaccinated, experts argue. 

Professor David Livermore, from the University of East Anglia, has said: ‘Limited vaccine supplies would be far better used in countries and regions with large vulnerable elderly populations who presently remain unvaccinated — Australia, much of South East Asia and Latin America, as well as Africa.’ 

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