CMOs Recommend COVID Jabs for Children Aged 12 to 15

Jane Kirby, Ella Pickover, Geraldine Scott & Katrine Bussey

September 13, 2021

Editor's note, 13 September 2021: This article was updated with new information.

Children aged 12 to 15 should be offered a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the UK's four chief medical officers (CMOs) have said.

The decision takes into account 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 and comes despite the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) deciding not to recommend mass vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds.

It is expected the vaccinations will be given through schools.

The JCVI said COVID-19 presents a very low risk for healthy children and vaccination would only offer a marginal benefit.

But they suggested that the wider issues, such as education, should be taken into consideration and examined by CMOs.

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-19 in schools".

They added: "COVID-19 is a disease which can be very effectively transmitted by mass spreading events, especially with Delta variant.

"Having a significant proportion of pupils vaccinated is likely to reduce the probability of such events which are likely to cause local outbreaks in, or associated with, schools.

"They will also reduce the chance an individual child gets COVID-19. This means vaccination is likely to reduce (but not eliminate) education disruption."

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.

This will not be before the spring term.

The CMOs think a single dose will reduce significantly the chance of a young person getting COVID and passing the virus on.

After seeking advice from a range of experts, including medical colleges, the CMOs said they consider education "one of the most important drivers of improved public health and mental health".

They added: "The effects of disrupted education, or uncertainty, on mental health are well recognised.

"There can be lifelong effects on health if extended disruption to education leads to reduced life chances.

"Whilst full closures of schools due to lockdowns is much less likely to be necessary in the next stages of the COVID-19 epidemic, UK CMOs expect the epidemic to continue to be prolonged and unpredictable.

"Local surges of infection, including in schools, should be anticipated for some time. Where they occur, they are likely to be disruptive."

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.

Reaction

Experts have been commenting on the CMOs' decision via the Science Media Centre.

Russell Viner, Professor of Child and Adolescent Health, UCL, said: "Vaccinating 12 to 15 year olds remains a very marginal balance in medical terms, although with over 10 million teenagers vaccinated worldwide we are now much clearer about safety in this age-group. The pandemic has wrought a great deal of harm in the lives of our children and young people, including poorer mental health and disruptions to education and socialisation.  The CMOs were able to take these broader issues into account and decided that on balance we as a society should offer vaccines to all teenagers.

"This is a good decision for young people and for broader society. It is also a testament to strong UK decision-making, recognising the critical importance of independent scientific decision-making without fear of political influence, but also factoring in key societal issues missing from a narrow focus on medical harm and benefits."

A statement from the Royal Society of Paediatrics and Child Health said: "We believe that vaccination could benefit healthy children, irrespective of any direct health benefit, in enabling them to have less interruption to school attendance, to allow them to mix more freely with their friends, to give more protection to friends and family members whose health may be at risk from the virus, and to help reduce the anxiety some children feel about COVID-19.  But vaccination of 12 to 15 year olds must be part of a concerted overall plan to ensure consistent and uninterrupted access to school."

PM 'Dead Set' on Avoiding Future Lockdowns

Boris Johnson is "dead set" on avoiding further lockdown, reports have suggested, as the Prime Minister prepares to set out his plan to get the country through coronavirus over the autumn and winter.

Mr Johnson is expected to address the country via a press conference on Tuesday to underline how vaccinations will be a central part of the response to coronavirus in the coming months.

Although a number of measures to control COVID are set to be loosened, The Daily Telegraph reported that the PM would tell MPs and the country that "we need to learn to live with COVID" and that vaccines would provide the main defence.

Government data up to September 11 shows that of the 92,414,463 COVID jabs given in the UK, 48,422,588 were first doses, a rise of 27,229 on the previous day.

Some 43,991,875 were second doses, an increase of 96,435.

Vaccine Passports 

England's Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Sunday that there was a "whole toolbox" of measures in place to help control COVID, but that vaccine passports would not be one of them.

In the latest of the Government's coronavirus U-turns, Mr Javid announced plans to introduce vaccine passports in England for nightclubs and other crowded venues had been scrapped.

Mr Javid confirmed the proposals "will not be going ahead" just days after ministers had defended the policy to sceptical MPs.

Mr Johnson had previously announced that members of the public would be required to show proof they have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in order to gain entry to clubs and other large-scale events in England.

But following a backlash from Tory MPs, the Health Secretary said the idea had been shelved.

Coronavirus Act

It follows No 10 confirming some elements of the Coronavirus Act would be repealed, including those allowing the closing down of the economy, the imposing of restrictions on events and gatherings, the power to temporarily close or restrict access to schools, and powers to detain infectious people.

The Telegraph also reported that the traffic travel light system would be scrapped, the red list of countries would be reduced, and that PCR tests would not be needed for double vaccinated travellers.

On Sunday, Mr Javid said he wanted to get rid of PCR tests for travel "as soon as I possibly can".

The Health Secretary told Sky News's Trevor Phillips On Sunday: "I'm not going to make that decision right now, but I've already asked the officials that the moment we can, let's get rid of these kinds of intrusions."

On vaccine passports, he told the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show: "I've never liked the idea of saying to people you must show your papers or something, to do what is just an everyday activity, but we were right to properly look at it.

"We've looked at it properly and whilst we should keep it in reserve as a potential option, I'm pleased to say that we will not be going ahead with plans for vaccine passports."

Mr Javid's announcement on COVID certification came shortly after the minister had appeared on Sky News and told host Trevor Phillips a final decision had yet to be made.

He said: "We haven't made a final decision as a Government."

Labour's Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said the rapid change showed that "the Government's approach to COVID passports has been shambolic from the start".

Asked whether ministers were removing too many measures designed to keep the public safe, Mr Javid said the Government should not be introducing coronavirus measures "just for the sake of it".

He told The Andrew Marr Show: "There's a lot of defences, we've just gone through some of them, that we need to keep in place, because this virus hasn't gone anywhere.

"There's still a pandemic so of course we need to remain cautious. But we just shouldn't be doing things for the sake of it or because others are doing, and we should look at every possible intervention properly."

Keeping Some Rules

This morning, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said some regulations may still be needed as the NHS prepares to battle both COVID and seasonal flu in the winter months.

Asked about maintaining the work-from-home advice, she told BBC Breakfast of the need to keep some rules on the table, adding: "Whether that’s with what you just mentioned or making sure statutory sick pay can be paid from day 1 rather than day 4, as tends to happen in more regular times.

"These are the sensible measures I think that we’re going to keep."

On the issue of masks, she added: "The Prime Minister will be setting out the COVID winter plan tomorrow. I think my approach, and I see that with a lot of employers’ organisations, is about having a situation-specific approach."

UK Divided

Vaccine passports had caused growing disquiet among Tory ranks, as well as facing opposition from opposition parties and industry figures.

The decision means COVID measures in England again deviate from those in Scotland, where a motion on their introduction was passed in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, while a decision is expected in Wales next week.

Stormont ministers have yet to reach an official position on using vaccine access passports within Northern Ireland.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Sunday that a "very targeted and limited system of vaccine certification… can help us reduce transmission in some higher-risk settings".

The Government said a further 56 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19 as of Sunday, bringing the UK total to 134,200.

Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have now been 158,000 deaths registered in the UK where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

As of 9am on Sunday, there had been a further 29,173 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in the UK, the Government said.

Valneva Vaccine Deal

Meanwhile, more information is being sought from the UK Government after a drugs firm said its contract to supply coronavirus vaccines had been terminated.

The French pharmaceutical company Valneva said the Government had alleged it was "in breach of its obligations" under the deal to supply the vaccine, which it is currently developing at its facility in Livingston, West Lothian.

Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said the move would be a "blow" for the site – visited by Prime Minister Boris Johnson back in February.

The Valneva vaccine candidate is currently in Phase 3 trials, the firm said, with results due in the fourth quarter.

It added that subject to these and MHRA (the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) approval, it believes that "initial approval" for the VLA2001 vaccine could be granted in late 2021.

The firm stated: "Valneva has worked tirelessly, and to its best efforts, on the collaboration with HMG [Her Majesty’s Government]  including investing significant resources and effort to respond to HMG’s requests for variant-derived vaccines.

"Valneva continues to be committed to the development of VLA2001 and will increase its efforts with other potential customers to ensure that its inactivated vaccine can be used in the fight against the pandemic."

This article contains information from PA Media.

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