When will children get Covid vaccines?
Expert panel is set to advise against jabs for under 18s
The government’s scientific advisers are unlikely to recommend that children aged 12 to 17 should be vaccinated against Covid-19, a cabinet minister has said.
“It is my understanding that they are not recommending the vaccination of under-18s and we will be saying more in due course about that,” Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, told BBC Breakfast.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has concluded that “the risks are not worth the gains” in preventing an illness that is unlikely to cause serious problems for children, says The Times.
The committee is now deciding “how strongly” to word its official advice, and whether to give ministers “wiggle room” to offer parents a choice in whether they can vaccinate their children. But the JCVI seems to be “inclining against” giving parents the option in the interests of clarity, and to underline their assessment that it is not needed, says the paper.
While it is ultimately the government’s decision whether to vaccinate under-18s, ministers have asked the committee for its professional recommendation.
A source close to the committee said: “There just isn’t the value in it. They are very clear they don’t think it’s appropriate and feel very strongly that children should not be vaccinated,”
The news comes despite the UK’s medicines regulator, the MHRA, having approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine in 12 to 15-year-olds.
The committee may be waiting for “more safety data on children who have been vaccinated in other countries, such as the US”, before recommending vaccinations be rolled out to children, says the BBC - or the government may first want to “see the impact of vaccinating all adults in the UK on virus cases”.
Others are questioning whether its “right to vaccinate children in the UK, when so many millions of other people in the rest of the world are still unvaccinated”, the BBC adds.
Nevertheless, some ministers are “keen to press beyond” the JCVI’s decision, The Times reports.
A health department spokesperson said: "No decisions have yet been made on whether people aged 12 to 17 should be routinely offered Covid-19 vaccines.”
The current advice is that 16 to 18-year-olds can be offered a Pfizer jab if they are in a priority group, or live with someone who has a weakened immune system.
Tentative NHS plans
Earlier this May, The Sunday Times reported that the NHS had begun to draw up tentative plans to offer the Pfizer vaccine to secondary school pupils in September.
NHS and government sources told the newspaper that “core planning scenario” documents compiled by health officials include proposals to offer a single dose to children aged 12 and over at the start of the new school year.
But health officials made clear then that the plans would be guided by “advice due this summer from scientists on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation”, with a source emphasising that “no decision has been made yet”.
Professor Adam Finn, who sits on the independent advisory committee, said the decision would depend on Covid rates in the UK over coming months. Pointing to recent modelling that predicts a third wave after coronavirus restrictions are lifted on 21 June, he said: “We need to be in a position to immunise children, particularly teenagers, promptly and efficiently if we need to.”
Sources confirmed that as in Canada, children in the UK would probably be vaccinated with the Pfizer jab. The pharma giant is the only Covid jab manufacturer to produce trial data for under-16s so far, with study findings published in March revealing an efficacy rate of 100% among 2,260 test subjects aged 12 to 15, with no safety concerns.
Other vaccine manufacturers including Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are currently testing their jabs on children aged 12-18, “with Moderna’s data expected soon”, the BBC reports. Moderna and Pfizer are also testing their vaccines on children between six months and 11 years old.
A trial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in children was halted in April after fears were raised about a possible link between the jab and blood clots in adults, as ITV News reported at the time.
‘Low’ infection risk
Drug companies are “understandably wary” of testing products on children, “especially when their risk from the disease the vaccine protects against is low,” says BBC health reporter Rachel Schraer.
And as the Financial Times points out, rolling out vaccines to children in developed nations could put a “huge strain” on global supplies, further delaying delivery of the jab to vulnerable adults.
But “while most children are not a high risk of Covid”, Schraer adds, “if they can begin to be safely vaccinated, it is believed this could help countries to achieve herd immunity, reducing the chances of disease outbreaks in the future”.
“With many countries struggling to vaccinate their most vulnerable populations - against a virus that doesn’t respect borders - the Canadian move could raise questions about whether the vaccines could be prioritised better elsewhere,” she concludes.
Has the vaccine been approved for children elsewhere?
In May, Canada became the first country in the world to authorise a coronavirus vaccine for use for under-16s - with the US expected to announce similar plans shortly.
Canada’s Health Ministry approved the use of the Pfizer jab for children between 12 and 15 after Phase 3 clinical trials found that the vaccine was safe and effective in that age group.
Confirming the decision, senior health advisor Dr Supriya Sharma told reporters: “We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The rollout kicked off in the province of Alberta, which reported “the highest number of Covid-19 cases per capita in all of Canada and the United States”, according to Canadian broadcaster CTV News.
With the US also battling high infection rates, US regulators authorised the use of the Pfizer vaccine for use in children as young as 12 in May,” widening the country’s inoculation program even as vaccination rates have slowed significantly,” reports The Guardian.