Professor Jonathan Van-Tam appeared to drop a hint that vaccine eligibility could go further than the over-16s and may be rolled out to children as young as 12 in future
All over-12s could soon be offered a Covid vaccine, the UK’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam has suggested.
The remarks come as it emerged coronavirus jabs will be offered to 16 and 17-year-olds as ministers seek to halt the spread of the virus and prevent schools chaos.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said older teenagers should get inoculated in a move that will see an extra 1.4 million young people eligible for the jab.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid accepted the JCVI recommendation and has asked the NHS to prepare to start giving first doses to youngsters “as soon as possible”.
Meanwhile, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam appeared to drop a hint that vaccine eligibility could go even further and may be rolled out to children as young as 12 in future.
He said the Government’s chief scientists are committed to giving the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation [JCVI] “time” to assess the impact of vaccination on healthy children aged 12 to 15, adding the option has not been ruled out.
The professor said it was “more likely than less likely” that the list would be broadened.
Dr Peter English, a retired consultant in communicable disease control, and former chair of the BMA public health medicine committee, said the JCVI appeared to be adopting “an abundance of caution” and questioned why they had not gone further, sooner.
He said: “Why they did not recommend vaccinating 12+-year-olds outside risk groups in mid-July, and why it seems they will restrict their recommendation to people aged 16+ today, are questions that remain unanswered to my satisfaction.”
He added that he believes it is “just a matter of time” before jabs are recommended for everyone aged 12 and above.
Professor Russell Viner, professor of child and adolescent health at UCL, described the latest move as “a welcome and sensible step”, but said more safety data is needed “before we consider vaccinating younger teenagers”.
He said: “Any decisions about vaccinating children and teenagers must balance risks and benefits, and this is never easy.
“Vaccinating older teenagers is a reasonable first step and will be important for young people themselves in the return to school, and also benefit wider society including the elderly and younger children.
“This step is particularly useful now as high vaccination levels are concentrating infection amongst the unvaccinated children and teenagers.”
Chief executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson said: “We urge everyone, including 16 and 17-year-olds, to have their Covid-19 jab when they are offered it, in line with the advice of Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
“The UK’s vaccination programme has played a pivotal role in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. Our falling infection, hospitalisation and death rates are testament to this.”
Dr Louise Soanes, chief nurse at the Teenage Cancer Trust, said the JCVI’s decision will reduce apprehension felt by young people with cancer.
She said: “The expansion of the vaccination programme will protect their friends, family and others they come into contact with, but more crucially it will also provide an additional layer of protection for the clinically vulnerable themselves.”