All British children may receive a Covid vaccine by the end of the year, but only vulnerable 12-plussers for now
Every child in the UK could get a Covid shot by the end of the year, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi suggested today.
No10 will unveil plans to immunize Britons aged 12 to 16 with underlying health conditions or living with a vulnerable family member.
The plans will also see 17-year-olds months away from their 18th birthday be offered a vaccine.
But ministers will stop opening the rollout to all healthy youth until more safety data is collected in places like the US, where it’s already happening.
The Joint Vaccination and Immunization Committee – which advises No. 10 on vaccination urges – will also review data from ongoing studies of Pfizer’s shot in children as young as two years of age.
Mr Zahawi said the government had nagging concerns about the ‘very rare’ cases of heart inflammation in some young people receiving the Pfizer and Moderna shots.
It comes as all Covid restrictions are lifted in England today, although Boris Johnson has urged caution as the outbreak across the country is spurred by the more contagious Indian ‘Delta’ variant.
He will spend Freedom Day in seclusion — along with Chancellor Rishi Sunak — as they were both identified as close contacts of Health Minister Sajid Javid, who tested positive for the virus over the weekend.
Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the Joint Vaccination and Immunization Committee (JCVI) is still looking at whether all children should receive the vaccine, while the Daily Telegraph said the committee is ‘leaving the door open’ for the move.
Experts in the UK are waiting for the results of clinical trials and countries like the US that already vaccinate children before deciding whether to follow suit
What is the evidence for vaccinating children?
Covid is very rarely serious or fatal in children.
Only one in 500,000 young people under the age of 18 are at risk of dying from the virus, researchers from leading British universities found this month.
That means any vaccine given to young people must be very safe because the risk-harm benefit of getting the virus is so low.
The fact that older people are more likely to be hospitalized or die from the virus outweighs the side effects the vaccine could have on them.
But because children are less affected by the virus, some side effects may be more risky for them than the virus itself.
Since the vaccine’s introduction has been extended to children in countries such as the US and Israel, there have been reports of extremely rare cases of myocarditis and pericarditis.
Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle, while in pericarditis, the protective layer around the heart becomes inflamed.
There are no specific causes of the conditions, but they are usually caused by a virus.
The UK is expected to wait for more data from clinical trials and other countries immunizing children before making a decision to offer all young people the shot.
The US, Israel and France are already giving the vaccine to people over the age of 12.
In addition to safety concerns, children’s bodies and immune systems behave differently, meaning they may have different treatment needs.
Young people may need different doses or needle sizes depending on their height, weight and age. Therefore, most children are not vaccinated until safety in the adult population is well documented.
Vaccinating children against Covid remains a controversial topic because most young people are at such a low risk of the virus itself and the shots carry a small risk of serious side effects.
Immunizing juveniles would be purely to protect the adult population and keep schools open.
Nearly 750,000 children had to self-isolate last week because they came into contact with a possible Covid case.
The JCVI is expected to advise the government within three months of their next birthday to only vaccinate children between the ages of 12 and 16 who have underlying conditions themselves or who live with someone who does, as well as 17-year-olds.
The committee is waiting for evidence from children receiving both doses in the US and in studies before recommending that all healthy children be injected.
But they will “leave the door open” for a wider rollout among children after reviewing safety data from studies later this year, according to the Daily Telegram.
All children who receive the shot are expected to receive the Pfizer shot, which the drug and health care product regulatory agency previously approved for people over the age of 12.
Pfizer is currently testing its shot on children between the ages of two and 11, while AstraZeneca is testing its shot on six to 17-year-olds.
The results of the trials are expected to be published around November.
It is still unclear whether the AstraZeneca vaccine will be given to children in the UK – it is already restricted in adults under 40 due to its very rare links with deadly blood clots.
Zahawi told Sky News this morning: ‘The Joint Vaccination and Immunization Committee has just issued their opinion, we will consider it.
‘In fact, after my morning round, we have the Covid O (committee) and then I make a statement to the House of Representatives.
But suffice it to say they looked very closely, especially at children who are more vulnerable to serious infections from Covid, children living with adults who are more vulnerable to serious infections from Covid and of course 17-year-olds who are almost 18 – so three months from their 18th birthday – and we will heed that advice before I make a statement to Parliament later today.’
Mr Zahawi emphasized why the government did not want to poke all children and added: ‘The JCVI continues to assess that.
“New data is coming in from kids vaccinated in America and elsewhere with a first dose, not enough data with a second dose yet, so they want to look at all the data.
“There’s a very rare signal around something called myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart.
‘On balance, I think the JCVI will step aside to continue to assess all children, healthy children, but first want to protect the vulnerable children.’
British health chiefs are already warning that Pfizer and Moderna’s coronavirus vaccines could cause heart damage.
The drug and health products regulatory agency stresses that the complication — inflammation of the heart muscle that can damage the organ over time — is still “extremely rare” and “usually mild.”
Data from the US – where cases of myocarditis have been noted – suggest the complication is most common in boys and young men.
Professor Helen Bedford, a pediatric health expert at University College London, said: ‘In order to recommend a vaccine for any population group, the risks of the disease and the benefits and risks of vaccination must be carefully weighed.
Healthy young people and children very rarely become seriously ill with Covid, so vaccination would have few direct benefits for them, but it would help boost the population’s immunity.
“There may be a stronger case for vaccinating people with existing serious health conditions.
‘Before recommending vaccination for all children and young people, we must therefore be very clear about the safety of the vaccines in this group.
“While there is now good trial data and experience with vaccinating very large numbers of adults and the vaccines have been shown to be safe, we cannot automatically assume that this also applies to children.
“More information is needed from trials and experience with the use of these vaccines in adolescents and children before the program is rolled out further.”
It comes as Professor Neil Ferguson, dubbed ‘Professor Lockdown’ after his grim modeling of the first wave triggered the first shutdown last March, warned yesterday that herd immunity will be impossible without vaccinating children.
Herd immunity is when such a large proportion of a population is immune to a virus, either through vaccination or a previous infection, that the disease begins to subside.
Professor Ferguson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday: ‘We are already seeing very high cases in teenagers, and we won’t be able to achieve herd immunity without significant immunity in basically people under the age of 18.’
He also warned that the daily numbers could reach 200,000 infections and 2,000 hospitalizations.
Professor Ferguson said: ‘We will know it has worked when the number of cases stabilizes and starts to fall, we know hospitalizations and deaths will continue for a few more weeks.
The best forecasts suggest this could happen any time from mid-August to mid-September. So we will have to be patient.
“It will also take us three weeks before we know what the effect of Monday, of the easing of restrictions, will be and what that will do to case numbers. So it will be a long time.’