Professor Chris Whitty has said there are “no plans at the moment” to look at vaccinating under-12s.
It comes as the UK’s four chief medical officers (CMOs) have said children aged 12 to 15 should be offered a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
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At a glance: 5 key points
- The decision to vaccinate children aged between 12-15 takes into account the “extremely powerful” evidence on the impact of the pandemic on children’s education as well as the risks to their mental health from missing school
- The move means that around three million children could be eligible for the jab
- It is expected the vaccinations could be given through schools as soon as possible once the advice has been considered by the government
- The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) decided not to recommend mass vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds. The JCVI said Covid presents a very low risk for healthy children and vaccination would only offer a marginal benefit
- But the JCVI suggested that the wider issues, such as education, should be taken into consideration and examined by CMOs
What’s been said
At a Downing Street press conference, professor Wei Shen Lim, from the JCVI, said there was “no conflict” between the advice provided by the JCVI and that from the CMOs, adding that the JCVI had looked at jabs from a health perspective.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said it had been a “difficult decision” regarding vaccinating children but CMOs would not be recommending the jabs “unless we felt that benefit exceeded risk”.
He added: “In a sense, what we’re not trying to do is say to children ‘you must, must, must, must, must’ but what we’re saying is that we think on balance the benefits both at an individual level and in terms of wider indirect benefits to education and through that to public health are in favour, otherwise we would not be making this recommendation.”
In their advice to the government, the UK’s CMOs said they were recommending vaccines on “public health grounds” and it was “likely vaccination will help reduce transmission of Covid in schools”.
The CMOs have asked for the JCVI now to look at whether second doses should be given to children and young people aged 12 to 15 once more data comes through internationally.
The CMOs think a single dose of Pfizer will reduce significantly the chance of a young person getting Covid and passing the virus on.
The NHS in England had already been asked to prepare to roll out vaccines for all 12 to 15-year-olds in the event that the CMOs recommend the programme.
The JCVI has already recommended that children and young people aged 12 to 17 with specific underlying health conditions, and children and young people who are aged 12 years and over who are household contacts of people who are immunocompromised are offered two doses of a vaccine.
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