U.K. Will Offer Covid Vaccines to Children Aged 12 and Up
(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. will offer Covid vaccines to all children as young as 12 starting next week as the government seeks to reduce disruption in schools and follows countries such as the U.S.
The decision follows a recommendation Monday from the U.K.’s chief medical officers to give a first dose of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine to children ages 12 to 15. They called for the committee that advises the government to recommend whether and how to give second doses once more data is available. That wouldn’t happen before the spring term, they said.
“It is not a silver bullet,” England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said in a news conference. “But we think it is an important and potentially useful additional tool.”
The U.K. has been an outlier in choosing 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 older have been getting the vaccines since May, while most of the European Union opted to vaccinate young people ahead of the school year.
“It is essential that children and young people aged 12-15 and their parents are supported in their decisions, whatever decisions they take, and are not stigmatized” either way, the medical officers wrote. “Individual choice should be respected.”
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said earlier this month that the benefits of inoculation for healthy children this age was “marginally greater” than the potential known harms, while advising the government to ask the medical officers to weigh in on the decision. Concerns have focused on a very rare heart condition that has been linked to the Pfizer shot, one of the only Covid vaccines authorized for children.
The government accepted the advice of the medical officers, and the health service is now preparing to deliver a schools-based vaccination program, the model used for other immunizations, according to a statement. Parental, guardian or carer consent will be sought prior to vaccination, it said.
The country’s health officials described a more deliberate pace in expanding the campaign to younger people after the U.K. became the first western country to approve a vaccine and raced ahead of many nations in rolling out shots to the rest of the population.
“Rushing these things doesn’t feel like the right thing to do for these more difficult decisions,” Whitty said. “This is a more difficult decision in children and young people than it is in older adults.”
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