Teenagers will be able to overrule their parents to take the Covid-19 vaccine if the jabs are introduced for 12-15-year-olds, the vaccines minister has said.
Nadhim Zahawi has said if 12 to 15-year-olds wanted to receive the jab and they were judged to be “competent” then their decision would override their parents' wishes for them not to have it.
Plans are currently being drawn up as to whether teenagers should be vaccinated against coronavirus.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) decided against backing the move on health grounds alone because Covid-19 presents such a low risk to younger teenagers.
But Professor Chris Whitty and the three other chief medical officers in the UK are reviewing the wider benefits of vaccinating the age group, such as minimising school absences, and are expected to present their findings within days.
The government is waiting for their advice before making a final decision but ministers have indicated they are keen to authorise a wider rollout.
Mr Zahawi said if the UK’s chief medical officers recommend vaccination then it “absolutely” is the right thing to do, but he said he did not want to “pre-determine” the decision.
Speaking on Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday, he said: “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.”
He said parents of healthy 12 to 15-year-olds will be asked for consent if coronavirus jabs are approved for their children.
“I can give that assurance, absolutely,” he said.
But on Times Radio he said 12 to 15-year-olds could override their parents’ wishes “if they’re deemed to be competent to make that decision, with all the information available”.
Mr Zahawi told the T&G programme: “What you essentially do is make sure that the clinicians discuss this with the parents, with the teenager, and if they are then deemed to be able to make a decision that is competent, then that decision will go in the favour of what the teenager decides to do.”
On Friday, the JCVI approved a widening of the vaccination programme to another 200,000 children aged between 12 and 15 who have underlying health conditions.
But they stopped short of recommending the full rollout after investigating potential side-effects, such as the extremely rare events of inflammation of the heart muscle, known as myocarditis, after Pfizer or Moderna vaccinations.
While the condition can result in short periods of hospital observation, followed by typically swift recoveries, the JCVI concluded that the medium to long-term outcomes are still uncertain and more follow-up time is needed to get a clearer picture.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI’s chairman of Covid-19 immunisation, said the group’s view is that the benefits of vaccinating the age group “are marginally greater than the potential harms” but that the benefits are “too small” to support a universal rollout at this stage.
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