Official letters will soon be sent out to parents of children aged between 12 and 15 asking for permission to administer Covid-19 vaccines.
A Whitehall insider told The Sun that parents will be contacted via the letters within the next few days requesting permission.
It comes after an expert said that vaccinating children against Covid will stop classroom disruption when they return to school.
Ministers are pushing for schoolchildren aged 12- to 15-years-old to be given a jab, despite the Joint Commission for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) yesterday advising against the move.
Official letters will soon be sent out to parents of children aged between 12 and 15 asking for permission to administer Covid-19 vaccines
The JCVI — the independent body that advises the Government on the roll-out — claimed the virus posed such a low risk to people in the age group that the benefit of vaccination to their health would be marginal.
It did however recommend the jabs for 200,000 more children with chronic heart, kidney, lung and neurological conditions in that age group. A total of 350,000 children aged 12 to 15 are now eligible for the vaccine.
But experts pushing back against the plans today argued that it would be ‘ethically dubious’ to jab children solely to protect adults, because Covid itself poses such a tiny risk to youngsters.
Others believe it is better for children to catch Covid and recover to develop natural immunity than to be reliant on protection from vaccines, which studies suggest wanes in months.
SAGE adviser Professor John Edmunds, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, today said ministers must take into consideration the wide implications of not vaccinating children.
SAGE adviser Professor John Edmunds, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, today said ministers must take into consideration the wide implications of not vaccinating children
Pictured: Lottie Beard, 16, receives a jab at a walk-in Covid vaccination clinic at the Reading Festival at Richfield Avenue
And Jillian Evans, head of health intelligence at NHS Grampian in Scotland, said vaccinating the age group would help prevent transmission of the virus, as well as protect children from long Covid.
Former chief scientific adviser Professor Sir Mark Walport said it is for the Government to look at the broader harms of not vaccinating children.
Professor Edmunds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘It’s a very difficult one, They’re going to take a wider perspective than the JCVI took, I think that’s right.
‘I think we have to take into consideration the wider effect Covid might have on children and their education and developmental achievements.
‘In the UK now it’s difficult to say how many children haven’t been infected but it’s probably about half of them, that’s about six million children, so that’s a long way to go if we allow infection just to run through the population.
‘That’s a lot of children who will be infected and that will be a lot of disruption to schools in the coming months.’
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘If the guidance is this will reduce the disruption for all those young people, yes, we will absolutely back that.
‘The government is right on this – we have to look at the broader picture… In England.
This graph shows the number of first doses dished out by age group. The NHS publishes age groups as periods of five years, and groups all those under 18 together. It shows more than 620,000 have already been inoculated among under-18s
Scotland’s weekly Covid cases have nearly trebled in the fortnight after schools went back after summer there, Office for National Statistics data shows. There are fears the rest of the UK will be hit with a similar bang in cases now that classes are resuming this week
Latest estimates from a symptom-tracking app suggested under-18s had the second highest number of Covid cases in the country (blue line). Only 18 to 35-year-olds had a higher number of Covid cases (orange line). That is despite schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland only starting to go back this week. The data is from the ZOE Covid Symptom Study
Latest Public Health England data showed Covid cases are rising fastest among 10 to 19-year-olds (grey line) and 20 to 29-year-olds (green line). Approving Covid vaccines for 12 to 15-year-olds would likely help curb the spread of the virus in the age group, scientists in favour of the move add
WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF VACCINATING CHILDREN?
The main argument in favour of vaccinating children is in order to prevent them keeping the virus in circulation long enough for it to transmit back to adults.
Experts fear that unvaccinated children returning to classrooms in September could lead to a boom in cases among people in the age group, just as immunity from jabs dished out to older generations earlier in the year begins to wane.
This could trigger another wave of the virus if left unchecked, with infection levels triggering more hospitalisations and deaths than seen during the summer.
Avoiding long Covid in children
While the risk of serious infection from Covid remains low in most children, scientists are still unsure of the long-term effects the virus may have on them.
Concerns have been raised in particular about the incidence of long Covid — the little understood condition when symptoms persist for many more weeks than normal — in youngsters.
A study released last night by King’s College London showed fewer than two per cent of children who develop Covid symptoms continue to suffer with them for more than eight weeks.
Just 25 of the 1,734 children studied — 0.01 per cent — suffered symptoms for longer than a year.
Extremely rare incidences of a rare heart condition have been linked to the Pfizer vaccine in youngsters.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) in the US — where 9million 12- to 17-year-olds have already been vaccinated — shows there is around a one in 14,500 to 18,000 chance of boys in the age group developing myocarditis after having their second vaccine dose.
This is vanishingly small. For comparison, the chance of finding a four-leaf clover is one in 10,000, and the chance of a woman having triplets is one in 4,478.
The risk is higher than in 18- to 24-year-olds (one in 18,000 to 22,000), 25- to 29-year-olds (one in 56,000 to 67,000) and people aged 30 and above (one in 250,000 to 333,000). But, again, this is very low.
Britain’s drug regulator the MHRA lists the rare heart condition as a very rare side-effect of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
They said: ‘There have been very rare reports of myocarditis and pericarditis (the medical term for the condition) occurring after vaccination. These are typically mild cases and individuals tend to recover within a short time following standard treatment and rest.’
More than four times as many hospitalisations were prevented as there were cases of myocarditis caused by the vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds, the health body’s data show.
Jabs should be given to other countries
Experts have also claimed it would be better to donate jabs intended for teenagers in the UK to other countries where huge swathes of the vulnerable population remain unvaccinated.
Not only would this be a moral move but it is in the UK’s own interest because the virus will remain a threat to Britain as long as it is rampant anywhere in the world.
Most countries across the globe are lagging significantly behind the UK in terms of their vaccine rollout, with countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America remaining particularly vulnerable.
Jabs could be better used vaccinating older people in those countries, and thus preventing the virus from continuing to circulate globally and mutate further, than the marginal gains to transmission Britain would see if children are vaccinated, experts argue.
Professor David Livermore, from the University of East Anglia, has said: ‘Limited vaccine supplies would be far better used in countries and regions with large vulnerable elderly populations who presently remain unvaccinated — Australia, much of South East Asia and Latin America, as well as Africa.’
‘Specifically, where we have got so few measures now, this is going to be one of the most reassuring ways of telling those 12 to 15 year olds that is going to minimise the disruption for you.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI’s chairman of Covid-19 immunisation, said the group’s view was that the benefits of vaccinating the age group ‘are marginally greater than the potential harms’ but that the benefits were ‘too small’ to support a universal rollout at this stage.
But insiders are playing up the likelihood of a subsequent approval of the programme, with a Government source telling the BBC: ‘We believe there is strong case to vaccinate but await the advice of the chief medical officers.’
Chief medical officers (CMOs) from around the UK are now considering the wider societal and educational impacts of extending the rollout and will report in the coming days.
Ms Evans said: ‘We know that the JCVI’s decision is predominantly based on the individual benefits and risks to a child, and not considering some of the wider impacts, and that’s what the chief medical officers will do.
‘The thing about this is, it’s frustrating because it just builds in further delay in a decision that we’ve already been pushing for, so it delays things a little bit further.
‘Although I’m absolutely certain that there’ll be a lot of activity going on right now and in the days ahead so we can get to a decision as quickly as possible.’
She said that although the risk of long Covid in children was deemed to be small, much was still unknown about the illness.
Ms Evans continued: ‘You might pick up this news and think the JCVI has said no.
‘They haven’t said no – what they’ve said is on the balance of marginal benefits of vaccination against the risk of severe disease we’re saying no, but we’re leaving it open for you to consider other wider considerations.
‘So people might get confused by that.’
On Friday, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said he had joined his counterparts around the UK in order to ask for more advice.
He tweeted: ‘I thank JCVI for advice in relation to vaccinating 12-15yr olds.
‘I have spoken to other Health Ministers across UK & we have asked our respective CMOs to rapidly explore wider educational & societal impacts in relation to vaccinating 12-15yr olds – as per JCVI’s suggestion.’
Discussing the chief medical officers being tasked with giving further advice on vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds, Sir Mark told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘It’s uncomfortable but it’s not necessarily a particularly rare situation.
‘The JCVI looks through a very particular lens, which is the clinical safety of the vaccine for a given population group against the effects of the disease itself.
‘But what they don’t look at is the wider issues such as education and the harms to that, so the broader harms potentially to children and the knock-on effects to their families – that’s where policymakers come in.’
The mass rollout of vaccines was initially approved by the JCVI only for over-18s. The committee then extended it to 16 and 17-year-olds in a U-turn last month.
Since then it has come under intense political pressure to cover the 12-15 age group. Ministers fear the failure to vaccinate these children could lead to a surge in new cases as pupils return for the new academic year.
Asked if the JCVI had felt under political pressure over the decision, deputy chairman Prof Anthony Harnden told Times Radio: ‘We are an independent committee but we are an advisory body, and ultimately we advise. There’s been a lot of pressure from people coming out and making pronouncements about what we’re going to do with NHS planning.’
Cases in Scotland have soared since schools returned last month, with infections among youngsters now higher than at any time during the pandemic.
Earlier this week, the NHS began recruiting thousands of vaccinators to help with a rapid rollout in schools while awaiting advice from the JCVI.
Tensions over the issue, which have been simmering for weeks, burst into the public domain on Thursday when Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said offering Covid jabs to 12 to 15-year-olds would be ‘deeply reassuring’ to parents.
But the JCVI said it was sticking to a ‘precautionary approach’ and only 200,000 at-risk children in this age group should get jabbed.
Because youngsters are so unlikely to get ill with Covid, the medical benefits were not judged to be great enough to outweigh the small risk of side effects, including heart inflammation.
The panel said it was not qualified to determine whether vaccinating children would have wider benefits. ‘It is still finely balanced,’ said Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the JCVI.
‘We don’t think on the basis of health alone that we should be vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds. But given this is so finely balanced there may be other considerations like education.’
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘Along with health ministers across the four nations, I have written to the chief medical officers to ask that they consider the vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds from a broader perspective, as suggested by the JCVI.
‘We will then consider the advice from the chief medical officers, building on the advice from the JCVI, before making a decision.’
He said that – given the importance of this issue – he would like the advice ‘as soon as possible’.