Health expert backs vaccination push for 12-15 year olds

A prominent adviser to the Government on Covid-19 has given more backing to the push to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds against coronavirus.

By Kev Rogers
Sunday, 5th September 2021, 11:00 am
Decision on jabs for 12-15 year olds expected this week.
Decision on jabs for 12-15 year olds expected this week.

Vaccinations are currently only being offered to children aged 12 to 15 who are at higher risk from coronavirus or who live with someone who has a suppressed immune system.

Across England, more than half a million under-18s have now been vaccinated against coronavirus, representing 14% of the 12-17 population. In Yorkshire and the Humber 49,185 have received their first dose and in Doncaster 3,642 have been vaccinated.

Ministers look likely to approve the vaccinations this week although the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) decided against backing the move on health grounds alone, since Covid-19 presents such a low risk to younger teenagers.

With the UK’s chief medical officers reviewing the wider benefits of vaccinating the age group – such as minimising school absences – Professor Peter Openshaw has leant his weight to the push towards vaccinating.

Prof Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) which advises the Government, told BBC Breakfast he was “a little surprised” at the JCVI’s decision.

“We do know the virus is circulating very widely amongst this age group, and that if we’re going to be able to get the rates down and also prevent further surges of infection perhaps later in the winter, then this is the group that needs to become immune,” he said.

“And the best way to become immune is through vaccination, and there’s never been as much information as this in the past. To think there hasn’t been enough research is completely wrong.”

Prof Openshaw added: “To my mind, the public health benefit is very, very important, and we have to take the wider view that unless we do get infection rates down amongst this particular part of the population, it will be very, very hard to prevent further large recurrences (of Covid-19).

“I would say that teenagers are often amongst the most altruistic and the most generous people in society. They often think very deeply about these moral and ethical issues and they want to protect others as well."

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi insisted the Government is yet to decide whether to vaccinate healthy 12 to 15-year-olds against coronavirus. Parents of healthy 12 to 15-year-olds will be asked for consent if coronavirus jabs are approved for their children.

He told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “We have not made any decisions, so we haven’t decided not to listen to the experts.

“On the contrary, all four ministers, the Secretary of State Sajid Javid and his fellow ministers in the devolved administrations have agreed to ask the chief medical officers to convene expert groups, including the JCVI being in that, to be able to recommend which way we should go on healthy 12 to 15-year-olds.”

Despite more than 77% of the UK’s adult population now being vaccinated against coronavirus, the roll-out is still in the early stages for under-18s.

While Covid symptoms in children are largely asymptomatic or mild, vaccination opened for those aged 16 and 17 three weeks ago.