The NHS has drawn up plans to start vaccinating 12-year-olds from the first week schools go back, The Telegraph can reveal.
By Laura Donnelly, HEALTH EDITOR. 26 August 2021
'No time to waste': Covid vaccines to be offered to all 16 and 17-year-olds within weeks
Health officials have said children would not need parental consent under the schools’ jabs programme as trusts are told to prepare for rollout
NHS trusts were told on Wednesday to prepare for the possible rollout of a 12 to 15-year-old healthy child vaccination programme beginning on Sept 6. Emails seen by this newspaper, sent by NHS England’s regional offices, say trusts must have plans ready by 4pm on Friday.
The timetable – with the first jabs administered in less than two weeks’ time – has been drawn up despite the fact the Government’s advisers have so far not recommended such a rollout.
The Department of Health on Wednesday night insisted a decision to roll out jabs has not been taken. Until now, the Government’s vaccine advisers have said there is insufficient data to support such a rollout.
But further research on the safety of jabs in this age group is about to be published, which will feed into their review of the evidence.
In June, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved the Pfizer jab for 12 to 15-year-olds in Britain. But last month, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that youngsters between those ages would only receive jabs if they suffered from particular health conditions.
Vaccines are currently being offered to those aged 16 and 17. People in this age group are only being offered one dose, with the JCVI yet to make a decision on whether, or when, a second jab should be given.
The caution is linked to concerns over a rare side effect called myocarditis – a type of heart inflammation – which is more likely to be triggered by second doses.
Earlier this month, Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said: “The JCVI will review data and provide updates on at-risk groups aged 12 to 15 and whether any additional groups will be added.”
So far, the Government has followed the advice of the JCVI, which said more data were needed before it backs a wider rollout.
But health officials have shown more enthusiasm for a wider rollout. In July, the JCVI said: “The minimal health benefits of offering universal Covid-19 vaccination to children do not outweigh the potential risks.”
Just over two weeks later, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, said it was “more likely, rather than less likely” that the rollout among 12 to 15-year-olds would be expanded.
The emails asked trusts to provide details by 4pm on Friday of how they could vaccinate at least 75 per cent of children aged 12 to 15 by Nov 1.
Research on the safety of Pfizer jabs in vulnerable children is expected to be published shortly.
NHS guidance shown to this newspaper and the Planet Normal podcast, and circulated to NHS trusts yesterday, states that most 12 to 15-year-olds should be deemed “Gillick competent to provide own consent” over jabs. It refers to a 1985 legal decision which ruled that a teenage girl could obtain contraception without her parents’ involvement.
In recent weeks JCVI members have appeared increasingly divided over the issue. Earlier this week, Prof Adam Finn said the group was taking a “very cautious” approach to the advice on vaccinating younger children.”
Prof Wei Shen Lim, the chairman of the group’s Covid-19 subcommittee, had said earlier this month that the committee “will obviously want to try to protect” 12 to 15-year-olds with vaccines.
One expert involved in the vaccine rollout voiced concern about the way the situation was being handled. They said: “We have repeatedly heard the JCVI saying they want to see more data before a decision like this is taken, but it seems like the Government has lost patience with that and is pushing to get this rolled out as soon as possible.”
They also expressed concern about giving jabs to 12-year-olds without parental consent.
The guidance says if parents are present, they could provide this, or give it in advance. But it goes on to say that most 12 to 15-year-olds are competent to give their own consent.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “No decisions have been made on vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds and it is inaccurate to suggest otherwise. Ministers have not yet received further advice from the JCVI on this cohort.”
“We continue to plan for a range of scenarios to ensure we are prepared for all eventualities.”
Many countries including France, Germany, the US, Italy and Ireland have started vaccinating over-12s, or have drawn up such plans.
In the US, more than 40 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds have had at least one vaccine dose. Israel is planning to begin a nationwide vaccination drive in secondary schools next week, with parental consent required.