The UK government’s vaccines watchdog has decided there is not enough evidence to recommend the rollout of Covid vaccines to all 12- to 15-year-olds, but has held open the possibility of ministers seeking other advice to go ahead nonetheless.
But the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended an expansion of the group of children with health conditions that makes them clinically vulnerable. They should receive two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, as they are more at risk of the virus.
The committee said that with a rate of just two per million of healthy children needing intensive care treatment for Covid, the marginal benefit of vaccinating them was “insufficient to support a universal offer” of vaccines to the age group.
One issue is the very small risk of myocarditis, a form of heart inflammation, in children who receive the vaccine. While this is extremely rare, and children tend to recover quickly, there was uncertainty about any longer-term effects, with further research needed.
However, the JCVI has left ministers – who are under intense pressure to begin the children’s vaccinations as schools in England return this week – with the option of overruling the watchdog.
The JCVI’s decision notes that it is not within its remit to consider wider issues such as disruption to education and wider community transmission, and has agreed that ministers can seek advice on this elsewhere.
The chief medical officers of the four UK nations will be asked for their views, with the hope of a UK-wide policy being formed.
It is understood the JCVI made the decision by a majority vote on Thursday, following lengthy discussions and debate.
The organization will next week consider the separate issue of third, “booster” jabs, and whether these should be universal or aimed only at older or more clinically vulnerable people.