Boris Johnson will have to decide whether to dismiss the advice of the vaccine watchdog after advisors refused to recommend Covid jabs for healthy children aged between 12 and 15.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has announced that it is widening the so-far limited rollout to more children in this age bracket who have underlying health conditions. But it is not recommending mass vaccination of children aged between 12 and 15.
The JCVI did find that benefits of a child getting a Covid jab outweigh any risks – but only slightly, and the marginal gain was not enough for a full recommendation.
However, the vaccines watchdog left the door open for ministers to overrule the guidance – which was made purely on health grounds – as it signalled the government should take advice on the impact of other factors, such as schools re-opening.
The announcement represents a blow for the government as only a week ago the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed preparations were under way to ensure the NHS was ready to offer coronavirus jabs to all 12 to 15-year-olds in England from early September.
Ministers are expected to now seek extra advice on the wider benefits of vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds, with the UK’s four chief medical officers being asked to lead this process.
The review will not consider any benefits adults may experience due to having children vaccinated, but rather will focus on areas outside the JCVI’s remit.
This would include lost education time due to Covid-related absences, either through sickness or being sent home from school.
It is expected to take several days.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said he is “grateful” for the expert advice from the committee, adding that he and other health ministers from across the UK have written to the chief medical officers to “ask that they consider the vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds from a broader perspective, as suggested by the JCVI”.
He added: “We will then consider the advice from the chief medical officers, building on the advice from the JCVI, before making a decision shortly.”
Coronavirus presents a very low risk for healthy children, and the JCVI has determined the benefit of vaccinating them is only marginal in terms of their health.
The committee decided under its precautionary approach that the benefit is not large enough to support their mass vaccination from a purely health perspective.
The vaccine will be extended to the most at-risk children, and will include youngsters with chronic major heart, lung, kidney, liver and neurological conditions. It means about 200,000 more children will be invited for vaccines.