No decision yet on whether UK children will get Covid vaccine, says government adviser

Taskforce member says teenagers could be ‘prioritised’ – as government said to be considering jabs for under-18s

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 24 March 2021 09:47 GMT
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Might be necessary to give teenagers Covid vaccine, says government adviser

No final decisions have been made on vaccinating children in the UK against Covid-19, a member of the government’s vaccine taskforce has said.

It follows a report claiming that Boris Johnson’s government is considering a plan to begin giving Covid jabs to under-18s as early as August 2021.

Professor Adam Finn, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said more studies would be needed before decisions are made about extending the rollout to children.

Asked if under-18s could be vaccinated this autumn, Prof Finn told Good Morning Britain: “As far as I know there has been no decision made to immunise children starting in August, or indeed any decision been taken to immunise children at all at this point.”

However, the University of Bristol expert said it could become necessary to vaccinate children later this year – and suggested teenagers would be the priority. “It’s certainly something that we might need to do,” he added.

“If it does turn out to be necessary to immunise children, I think it is more likely that we would prioritise teenagers over younger children, simply because the evidence we have at the moment is that transmission of the virus is more likely to occur from and between teenagers who are a little bit more like adults.”

The government is making provisional plans to begin immunising children as early as August, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, which cited two sources involved in preparations.

While children are less likely to fall ill with Covid than adults, they do play a role in transmitting the virus.

The University of Oxford is currently carrying out a clinical trial on children to test the safety and efficacy of its vaccine in younger age groups, with initial results expected in the summer.

The trial is working with partner sites in London, Southampton and Bristol and includes around 300 youngsters aged six to 17.

“I think what we need to learn before that [is] what proportion of the population we need to immunise in order to get effective herd immunity and to suppress circulation of the virus,” said Prof Finn.

“We need to have a clear understanding of how efficiently the vaccines actually interrupt infection and transmission, and that evidence is still on its way at the moment.”

Referring to the aim to have the adult population vaccinated before the end of July, Prof Finn said: “During that time we will see what goes on with variants, with the circulation of the virus, and then we’ll be able to make a decision whether children need to be immunised – we clearly won’t want to do that unless it’s necessary.

“But if it is necessary we will by then know whether the vaccines are entirely safe and effective and we’re giving the right dose and soon, so that we go forward with that later in the year.”

Prof Finn said more studies are forthcoming on how vaccines work in children, adding that “in order to establish that vaccines can safely be used in children, we need to do that”.

Currently, only children at very high risk of severe infection are offered a Covid-19 jab.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “While clinical trials are under way to test the efficacy and safety of Covid-19 vaccines in children and young adults, these trials have not concluded yet.

“We will be guided by the advice of our experts on these issues including the independent JCVI.”

Mr Johnson is set to be grilled by senior MPs over the vaccine rollout and his handling of the pandemic when he appears in front of the Commons’ liaison select committee on Wednesday afternoon.

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