U.K. Plans to Widen Covid Vaccine Program to More Teenagers
(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. will expand its Covid-19 vaccine rollout to 16- and 17-year-olds, a move that could help curb infections at the start of the next school year.
The country is moving to widen the number of teenagers eligible for Covid shots after a recommendation from an expert committee, and will begin the next phase as soon as possible, Health Secretary Sajid Javid wrote in a statement Wednesday. The panel isn’t yet advising vaccinating people under 16 without underlying health conditions.
The decision follows calls to to increase vaccination rates among younger Britons to significantly reduce transmission and protect the population from potential “long-Covid” symptoms. Virtually all remaining Covid restrictions were lifted in England last month at the same time that the highly contagious delta variant was taking hold, but cases have declined in recent days.
“Covid-19 vaccines have saved more than 60,000 lives and prevented 22 million infections in England alone,” Javid said. “They are building a wall of defense against the virus.”
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advised that all 16- and 17-year olds receive their first dose of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine. Data show young people will get about 80% protection against hospitalization after receiving their first dose, according to the committee. Protection will probably be even higher as younger people respond better to vaccines and some will have already been infected, it said.
The government last month had ruled out a broader program due to fears over rare side effects, saying only the most vulnerable children and those living with at-risk adults would receive Covid vaccinations. That decision put the U.K. on a different path from countries including the U.S. and France.
Britain’s rapid immunization campaign has fully vaccinated about 58% of the U.K. population, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker, and the government has pointed to the weakened link between infections and hospitalizations. Millions still remain vulnerable, and those who have endured lingering, long-term illness say those symptoms have been overlooked.
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