The Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the government on its jab rollout, has decided not to recommend Covid vaccines for healthy 12 to 15-year-olds.
After an assessment that focused on health grounds alone, the JCVI has now referred the matter to the UK’s four chief medical officers to review.
The JCVI has previously referred 200,000 under-16s with underlying health conditions to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, due to being considered ‘clinically vulnerable’.
But the body decided that there was no overwhelming benefit to the vaccine for healthy children, who are at very low risk of complications due to Covid.
England’s four chief medical officers will now determine other non-health factors that may benefit children if they receive the vaccine – for example, the question of missing out on school.
In a statement following the JCVI advice, the UK’s four chief medical officers confirmed they will review the wider issues affecting children and present their advice to ministers on whether a universal programme should be taken forward.
“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 [..] consider the advice from the Chief Medical Officers, building on the advice from the JCVI, before making a decision shortly.”
Covid-19 positivity rates were highest in the teenager and young adult age group in the week to 27 August, according to the Office for National Statistics.
However, hospital admissions and deaths remained highest among the elderly, a trend seen throughout the pandemic.
The risk of death for children not considered ‘high risk’, with underlying health conditions, has been extremely rare since the pandemic began in the country last year.
In deciding against a vaccine rollout for teens, the UK will have a bolstered supply for both the global vaccine sharing scheme COVAX as well as booster jabs for immunosuppressed adults.
The JCVI, which advises the government on its Covid vaccine strategy, set out the new recommendation for booster jabs separately from potential booster shot programmes, which health secretary Sajid Javid said the government is planning to begin separately in September.
Anyone over the age of 12 who was immunosuppressed at the time of their first or second dose of the Covid vaccine, including those with leukaemia, advanced HIV, or recent organ transplants, will be offered the extra dose.
Around half a million people in the UK are expected to receive a third booster shot.