U.K. Covid Panel Declines to Back Vaccines for Adolescents
(Bloomberg) -- A U.K. government advisory panel declined to recommend rolling out Covid-19 shots to all adolescents, instead passing the decision to Britain’s chief medical officers.
While the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said Friday that the benefit of vaccination for healthy 12-to-15-year-olds was “marginally greater” than the potential known harms, it advised the government to ask the U.K.’s four chief medical officers to weigh in on the decision, taking into account the impact on schools and young people’s education.
“Given the very low risk of serious Covid-19 disease in otherwise healthy 12-to-15-year-olds, considerations on the potential harms and benefits of vaccination are very finely balanced and a precautionary approach was agreed,” the JCVI said in a statement.
Concerns center on a very rare heart condition that has been linked to the Pfizer Inc. shot, one of the only vaccines that has been authorized for use in children.
The U.K. is an outlier among its neighbors over its decision not to vaccinate healthy older children, instead only offering the shots to those under age 16 who have underlying health conditions or live with vulnerable adults. In the U.S., children 12 and over have been getting the vaccines since May, while most of the European Union has opted to vaccinate young people ahead of the fall school year.
Members of the JCVI told reporters Friday that the divergence reflects the fact that each country has to look at its own data and the impact of the disease on its population. The risk of myocarditis -- one of the rare heart side effects -- is between three and 17 cases per million after the first vaccine dose, a wide range because the data is still uncertain, according to Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the panel. The group will be able to better quantify the risk as more time passes, he said.
“The idea that somehow everyone would be in lockstep on this is quite misguided,” said Adam Finn, another JCVI member and professor of pediatrics at the University of Bristol. “It’s not what we normally see with vaccine programs in terms of timing or indeed in terms of which vaccines are or aren’t used.”
The JCVI did recommend that the range of underlying health issues eligible for vaccination be expanded to include children with conditions such as sickle cell disease or type 1 diabetes. The government has already asked the National Health Service to prepare for the rollout of vaccines to adolescents and said that if it does proceed parental consent would be required.
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