JCVI says there is insufficient evidence to support giving jabs to all 12- to 15-year-olds
Peter Walker – Political correspondent
The UK government’s vaccines watchdog has decided there is not enough evidence to recommend the rollout of Covid vaccines to all 12- to 15-year-olds, but has held open the possibility of ministers seeking other advice to go ahead nonetheless.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that while the health gains from vaccinating the entire age group was seen as greater than the risks, “the margin of benefit is considered too small to support universal vaccination of healthy 12 to 15-year-olds at this time”.
The organisation did recommend an expansion of the group of children with health conditions that makes them clinically vulnerable, increasing it to 200,000, and are therefore eligible for the jab.
However, the JCVI said that because it was not within its remit to examine wider societal benefits of a broader vaccination rollout, such as less disruption to schools, it was inviting ministers to ask chief medical officers (CMOs) to look at this.
The CMOs from the four UK nations are expected to meet next week to examine this, after Sajid Javid, the health secretary, and his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland wrote and asked that they look at the wider factors.
While officials stress they will wait for the CMOs’ verdict, it remains very possible that the JCVI’s recommendation is overturned. “We don’t want to prejudge it, but vaccinations for all 12 to 15-year-olds is very much still on the table,” one government source said.
The expansion of jabs to older children with clinical vulnerabilities will now include those with conditions such as type 1 diabetes, congenital heart disease, sickle cell disease and severe asthma.
One issue with expanding jabs more widely is the very small risk of myocarditis, a form of heart inflammation, in children who receive the vaccine. While this is extremely rare, and children tend to recover quickly, there was uncertainty about any longer term effects, with further research needed.
The CMOs’ review will only consider factors that directly affect children, such as potential school closures, and not health benefits for other groups such as fewer Covid infections passed on by children.
“I can say that the intention is absolutely not to consider benefits outside of children themselves,” one health official said. “This is about vaccinating healthy 12- to 15-year-olds, it is not about any consequential benefits or not in adult populations, it’s about the children directly.”
It is understood the JCVI made the decision by a majority vote on Thursday, following lengthy discussions and debate.
The organisation will next week to consider the separate issue of third, “booster” jabs, and whether these should be universal or aimed only at older or more clinically vulnerable people.
Earlier on Friday, the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said ministers should consider rolling out booster injections even without a green light from the watchdog.
Hunt, who chairs the Commons health committee, said this would be acceptable given the JCVI appeared to support the basic idea of a third vaccination for some groups, and that time was crucial.
Hunt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the UK should follow Israel’s policy of mass booster vaccinations.
He said: “If you look at what’s happened in Israel, they have a higher vaccination rate even than us – 80% of adults – and they have found a Delta variant does lead to increased hospital admissions, but two weeks after they introduced boosters those admissions started to go down again.”