The UK’s chief medical officers (CMOs) have recommended that the government offer one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to all 12- to 15-year-olds.
It comes after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) declined to recommend the jabs to healthy children in this age group on health grounds alone.
The government said on Aug. 28 that it has told England’s health service to get ready to vaccinate the age group.
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was authorised in June to be used on children over 12 years old by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
The Moderna vaccine was deemed safe for children over 12 years old last month by the MHRA, but it has not yet been given to children in the UK’s vaccination programmes.
The JCVI previously told the government that “the benefits from vaccination are marginally greater than the potential known harms,” adding that the government “may wish to seek further views on the wider societal and educational impacts.”
Of these wider considerations, “the most important in this age group was [the] impact on education,” CMOs from England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland wrote in their letter to health secretaries.
The CMOs said they’re of the view that “the additional likely benefits of reducing educational disruption, and the consequent reduction in public health harm from educational disruption, on balance provide sufficient extra advantage in addition to the marginal advantage at an individual level identified by the JCVI to recommend in favour of vaccinating this group.”
Therefore, the CMOs said they recommend “on public health grounds” that the universal offer of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination should be extended to 12- to 15-year-olds.
They have also asked for the JCVI now to look at whether second doses should be given to children and young people aged 12 to 15 once more data come through internationally.
Schools minister Nick Gibb previously confirmed that it was the government’s intention to offer the jabs in schools.
One reason the JCVI didn’t recommend vaccinating healthy children was the “increasingly robust evidence of an association between vaccination with mRNA COVID-19 vaccines and myocarditis.”
It said that while the adverse event is very rare and mostly short-term, “the clinical picture is atypical and the medium to long-term (months to years) prognosis, including the possibility of persistence of tissue damage resulting from inflammation, is currently uncertain as sufficient follow-up time has not yet occurred.”
A recent study from the United States suggested that the rate of cardiac adverse events for males between the ages of 12 and 15 without a serious underlying health condition after getting their second Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 dose was up to six times higher than their risk of COVID-19 hospitalization.
Another reason the JCVI has been hesitant to recommend the jabs to young children was that in most circumstances, the age group can’t give informed consent.
On Sept. 5, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News that he could “give that assurance, absolutely” that parents’ consent will be sought if the government gets the go-ahead with its vaccination plan.
But in a separate interview, Zahawi suggested that parents’ decisions could be overridden if the child is “deemed to be able to make a decision that is competent.”
Zachary Stieber and PA contributed to this report.