As the Chief Medical Officer has said, the COVID-19 Delta variant is highly infectious and very common, so the great majority of the unvaccinated will catch COVID-19. The likelihood of children having significant detriment if they catch COVID-19 is thankfully very low, but there is still some risk. I am glad, therefore, that time has been taken to assess this decision carefully and thoroughly.
Earlier this year, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved the COVID-19 vaccines supplied by Pfizer and Moderna for 12- to 17-year-olds. It confirmed that both vaccines are safe and effective for this age group. The MHRA is one of the best medical regulators in the world and I can reassure you that authorisation would not be approved unless the expected standards of safety, quality and effectiveness have been met.
While the JCVI assessed that the health benefits from vaccination are marginally greater than the potential known harms, the margin of benefit was considered too small to support universal vaccination on this basis alone. That is why additional advice was sought and the UK’s Chief Medical Officers considered the matter from a broader perspective.
In their view, the additional likely benefits of reducing educational disruption, and the consequent reduction in public health harm, including mental health, from that disruption, on balance provide sufficient benefit in addition to the benefit identified by the JCVI. The CMOs therefore recommend extending the offer of universal vaccination, with a first dose of Pfizer, to all 12-15 year olds and the Government has accepted this advice.
I understand that vaccination will be delivered in schools, supported by GPs and community pharmacies. Parental, guardian or carer consent will be sought prior to vaccination, in line with existing programmes. It is important that children are able to understand the risks and benefits of vaccination for themselves, so it is welcome that information will be provided in a way that is accessible to children and young people as well as their parents.
Given the success of the rollout amongst adults, it is possible to take a more precautionary approach to rollout among younger people. This means that first doses will be prioritised and recommendations on the second dose will be delayed to allow the JCVI to provide the best available advice with the latest information for the second dose. I welcome this approach, which will ensure younger people are provided with some immediate protection from severe disease. I understand that the aim is for the second dose to be given later as this will extend protection for a longer period, however further data and the potential availability of alternative vaccine options will inform exact details which will be set out in due course.
Moreover, it is also important to weigh up the benefits of vaccination against any possible, though extremely rare, side effects and I am satisfied that the JCVI has done just that when giving their latest advice. Advice provided by the independent JCVI has been invaluable in ensuring a safe, effective and successful vaccination programme. While COVID-19 is typically mild or asymptomatic in most young people, it can be very unpleasant for some and for this particular age group, it is expected that one dose of vaccine will provide good protection against severe illness and hospitalisation.
Those aged 16 and 17 do not need the consent of their parents to receive a COVID vaccination. This is because, in the UK a person who is 16 years and above is deemed able to consent for themselves, and if they are competent and able to consent for themselves then that consent holds. This is the case for all medical treatment. More information on consent and NHS treatment can be found here:
In the UK we operate a system of informed consent for vaccinations, meaning that we provide as much information as possible about vaccines to individuals, who must then consent for themselves to receive the dose. Except in exceptional circumstances, no vaccine in this country is compulsory: you are right that it is up to an individual whether to receive a vaccine. That being said, the COVID-19 vaccine is saving lives and is clearly effective in reducing deaths and hospitalisations. It is vital that everyone who is eligible receives the vaccine to protect themselves, their community and the country as we work to defeat this virus. If you need any more information about vaccination, I would recommend visiting the NHS website here:
At every point in the vaccination programme, decisions have been guided by the best clinical advice and I know that this decision is no different. I hope all those aged 12 to 15 will accept this offer of vaccination.