UK rules out Covid vaccines for healthy children

Group chairman says coronavirus committee is 'taking a precautionary approach'

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A committee of UK vaccine advisers has refused to recommend the vaccination of healthy older children against Covid-19, saying the direct health benefits are “marginal”.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JVCI) said healthy children aged between 12 and 15 were at too low of a risk of catching the virus to merit vaccination.

The JVCI did, at the same time, recommend that 200,000 teenagers with specific underlying health conditions receive the vaccine.

Now that the committee has recommended against the shot for healthy children, the UK’s four chief medical officers will make the final decision, addressing wider issues such the new school term.

Prof Wei Shen Lim, JCVI's Covid immunisation chairman, said the committee was “taking a precautionary approach".

“The margin of benefit is considered too small to support universal Covid-19 vaccination for this age group at this time. The committee will continue to review safety data as they emerge,” he said.

In its analysis, the committee concluded the benefits of vaccinating this age group are “marginally greater than the potential known harms”.

The final decision on vaccinating children will be made the UK's four chief medical officers. AP

With only two out of every million health children needing intensive care treatment for Covid-19, the committee said the “margin of benefit, based primarily on a health perspective, is considered too small to support advice on a universal programme”.

In contrast, the need for intensive care treatment among children with underlying health conditions is far higher, at over 100 per million. With the committee's latest recommendation, about 200,000 with chronic heart, lung, kidney, liver and neurological conditions will now be eligible for either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Though the committee failed to back a universal roll-out for older children right as schools reopen, the UK may still end up joining other countries such as France, Germany and the US in offering vaccines to this age group.

“People aged 12 to 15 who are clinically vulnerable to the virus have already been offered a Covid-19 vaccine, and today we’ll be expanding the offer to those with conditions such as sickle-cell disease or Type 1 diabetes to protect even more vulnerable children,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.

“We will then consider the advice from the chief medical officers, building on the advice from the JCVI, before making a decision shortly.”

Mr Javid has already asked the National Health Service (NHS) to prepare to offer vaccines to older children should it be recommended by the chief medical officers. The NHS is also preparing for possible “booster” shots for older adults.

The committee is expected to decide soon on whether third doses should be offered to all adults or only to those above a certain age or with certain health conditions.

Nearly 80 per cent of the UK’s adult population has been fully inoculated, but the country has seen infection numbers edge higher over the past month following the lifting of lockdown restrictions.

Updated: September 03, 2021, 9:07 PM