UK advisers decide against Covid vaccines for healthy 12- to 15-year-olds

Ministers ask top health officials to assess Covid jabs for teenagers following advice

Ministers have asked the UK’s top medical officials to assess whether to approve Covid vaccines for teenagers after the government’s vaccine advisers said there was not enough evidence to justify universal vaccination of 12- to 15-year-olds on health grounds alone.

The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said on Friday that it had advised ministers to seek input from the UK’s four chief medical officers on “wider societal and educational impacts” of the rollout to teenagers after it concluded the benefits and potential harms of a vaccine for that age group were “very finely balanced”.

The JCVI’s decision comes amid growing impatience from ministers over the panel’s refusal to greenlight jabs for all children over 12, a move that has left the UK all but isolated among its international peers.

UK health secretary Sajid Javid, who is responsible for the NHS in England, and his three counterparts from the devolved administrations, wrote to their respective chief medical officers to ask them to convene a new panel of experts to assess the wider benefits of child vaccination.


“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 said. Ministers asked the NHS last month to prepare for a teenage vaccination rollout.

Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI's Covid-19 chair, said the committee was "taking a precautionary approach", adding that the margin of benefit of vaccinating healthy children was "considered too small to support universal Covid-19 vaccination".

He added: “As longer-term data on potential adverse reactions accumulates, greater certainty may allow for a reconsideration of the benefits and harms. This data may not be available for several months.”

The committee has stalled on universal vaccination for teenagers over safety concerns over mRNA vaccines, which cause severe heart inflammation in one in every 20,000 young people, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A JCVI member, who asked not to be named, told the Financial Times they worried that the “muddled” decision-making process would damage vaccine confidence for both the Covid-19 jab and other inoculations. “We have done our health-related brief to the best of our ability over long hours and now it’s out of our hands,” they said.

The JVCI said on Friday it had expanded the list of clinically vulnerable 12- to 15-year-olds eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine.

The BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine will now become available to 12- to 15-year-olds suffering from type one diabetes and sickle cell disease. Previously only younger teenagers with severely weakened immune systems and those living with vulnerable relatives were eligible for a jab.

The expanded list includes about 200,000 12- to 15-year-olds with chronic heart, lung, kidney, liver and neurological conditions. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021