The UK is drawing up plans to offer coronavirus vaccines to children over the age of 12 later this summer, the health secretary Matt Hancock signalled on Sunday.
The UK health secretary’s comments came after the approval for 12 to 15-year-olds of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory agency on Friday.
Mr Hancock said he would take advice from the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on how and when to roll out the inoculation of the over 12s.
“I’m delighted that the regulator, having looked very carefully at the data, with typical rigour and independence, has come forward and said the jab is safe and effective for those who are over the age of 12,” Mr Hancock told Sky News. “We are taking advice from the JCVI on putting that into practice.”
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, MrHancock said “a huge proportion of the latest [Covid-19] cases are in children”.
The UK’s vaccine rollout, which has now given more than 40m people their first dose, is currently vaccinating people aged over 30 and would next week open up the process to adults under 30.
However the government will “within a few weeks” come up with a plan for “how and if” there will be vaccination of teenagers later in the summer.
Mr Hancock said it was “very, very rare” that young people were affected “very negatively” by coronavirus, but he said there was some long Covid among children. “Crucially they can pass it on . . . the spread among children does have an impact on others,” he said.
Vaccination would also prevent disruption to schools when individual children contract the virus, he added.
Mr Hancock said the new Delta variant of Sars-Cov-2, first identified in India, appeared to be 40 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant first found in Kent.
That made the decision about whether to ease restrictions in England on June 21st "more difficult", he said – as he refused to rule out delays to the reopening programme. However he said that the vaccine worked just as effectively against the Delta strain.
Meanwhile there is growing pressure on the UK to hand over more of its vaccines to developing countries more quickly.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organisation, recently urged countries to reconsider vaccinating children and adolescents given that many low-income countries did not even have enough supplies to immunise healthcare workers.
Boris Johnson, the prime minister, has urged fellow G7 leaders ahead of this week's summit in Cornwall to step up a global effort to inoculate everyone in the world by the end of next year.
The UK will pledge to deliver more than 100 million coronavirus vaccinations to developing countries, according to a report in the Sunday Times, topping a US pledge last week to give away 80 million doses.
Mr Hancock said the UK government had already made a huge contribution by insisting that the vaccine created by AstraZeneca and Oxford university would be sold at cost, which would provide a big boost for many low and middle-income countries.
“I’m delighted there’s a global debate . . . about how we can do more to vaccinate the world,” he said. “But this country has done more than any other by making sure the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccination is available at cost.”
Tony Blair, the former Labour prime minister, argued on Sunday that those with two jabs should be given greater personal freedom. Mr Blair said it “makes no sense at all to treat those who have had vaccination the same as those who haven’t” and argued that relaxing measures for those who have been inoculated would incentivise others to follow suit.
Mr Hancock said that the issue would be addressed by the review into Covid certification being led by Michael Gove, cabinet office minister, which will report shortly.
The health secretary said it was inevitable that proof of vaccination or testing would be needed for international travel because other countries would demand it. “Domestically we haven’t gone there yet,” he said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021