Officials extended the UK’s vaccine programme to children aged 16 and 17 after a number of teenagers fell “seriously ill” with Covid, it has emerged.
Professor Adam Finn, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said it was “clear that the number of cases and the number of young people in the age group - 16, 17 - that were getting seriously ill merited going forward with giving them just a first dose”.
The professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol told BBC Breakfast: “Most young people who get this virus get it mildly or even without any symptoms at all.
“But we are seeing cases in hospital even into this age group – we've had a couple of 17-year-olds here in Bristol admitted and needing intensive care over the course of the last four to six weeks – and so we are beginning to see a small number of serious cases.
“What we know for sure is that these vaccines are very effective at preventing those kind of serious cases from occurring.”
Nearly 16,000 people in the 16 to 17-year-old age group have already received their vaccine over the weekend, just days after JCVI guidance was updated, according to NHS England.
In total, 1.4 million teenagers are now eligible to receive two doses of the Pfizer vaccine – the only jab that has been approved for use in children in the UK.
The JCVI has yet to determine the interval between the administration of a first and second jab for 16 and 17-year-olds, with a decision set to be made in due course as more data is collected and reviewed by the body.
Teenagers in the new age group can get the vaccine without parental consent, the government said.
Officials have not ruled out extending the jabs rollout further down to the 12 to 15-year-old age group.
Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said the more unvaccinated people there are, the more lungs there are ”for virus to percolate in”.
He said: “Therefore it's got to be a good thing to be vaccinating more children down through the age range”.
Prof Altmann told Times Radio children who have the virus but do not have symptoms are “as dangerous to the spread as anybody else”.
“From a medical scientific point of view, I'd say there's nothing special about the virus in their lungs that can't transmit through to their families, through to their schoolteachers, through to their colleagues,” he said.
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