Boris Johnson will be forced to decide on child jabs: Experts will set out ‘menu of options’ for PM next month on vaccinating under 18s instead of offering recommendation
- Boris Johnson expected to decide if children as young as 12 should get Covid jab
- Joint committee on vaccination and immunisation to present ‘menu of options’
- The group to meet with Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency
- European Medicines Agency approved Pfizer vaccine for children 12 and above
Boris Johnson will be forced to decide if children as young as 12 should receive the coronavirus vaccination by the end of next month.
The joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI) are expected to ‘come up with a menu of options’ for the Prime Minister but will not offer a definitive recommendation on jabs for those under the age of 18.
The group, who will meet with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency next week to discuss the matter, will present Mr Johnson with the benefits and consequences of the move and also address the legal and ethical issues.
It comes after the European Medicines Agency gave the green light for children between 12 and 15 to receive the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine paving the way for EU countries to start vaccinating children.
Earlier this month, US regulators, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), also authorised the Pfizer vaccine for use in children aged 12 and above, making another 17 million young Americans eligible for the shot.
Medical experts will present Boris Johnson with ‘a menu of options’ so that he can decide if children as young as 12 should receive the coronavirus vaccination
A source from the JCVI told The Telegraph: ‘It’s likely that the JCVI will come up with a menu of options saying what the consequences of each of them would be, rather than making an actual recommendation.
‘There are a lot more things to consider with this than with the adult vaccination programme.’
Earlier today, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) Professor Anthony Harnden said there would be ‘a range of different options’ when it came to selecting certain children to be immunised.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘Clearly with children there are a range of different options that involve whether we select certain children to be immunised on the basis of risk, we do know that the majority of children do not have huge risk of complications, whether we vaccinate for educational purposes, whether we vaccinate to protect others in the population, these are the ethical issues, there are a lot of issues to think about.
‘It’s a complicated position to decide on the immunisation of children, of course, then there’s the wider global ethical argument about the use of vaccine in children when there are other people in the world that are at risk of not being vaccinated.
‘So we need to think about all these issues, we probably will give the Government a range of options.’
He added: ‘It’s complicated, but we will think through these issues deeply and give some really good advice.’
Prof Harnden went on to say that while vaccines do help tackle transmission this was ‘only to a certain extent’ and therefore ‘he did not think the country would be able to vaccinate children to prevent huge amounts of transmission within the community’.
In April, Oxford University paused trials of its coronavirus vaccine in children as regulators probed the jab’s link to rare blood clots.
A spokesperson for the university said the move was precautionary and that there were no health issues among any of the youngsters involved in the trial.
Oxford began studying the vaccine in five-to-17-year-olds in February, with the aim of eventually scaling up the trial and testing it in 200 people.
But scientists stopped recruiting new volunteers and it is not clear how many children have already been given a dose.
According to scientists while children are at low-risk of falling ill from Covid-19, they do still play a role in transmitting the virus to those who could fall seriously ill.
But experts are divided on whether Britain should press ahead with the policy, given that youngsters are at such tiny risk of Covid.
Scientists will present the PM with the benefits and consequences of immunising children as young as 12. Pictured: A public health digital board advises the public to follow the coronavirus rules in Bolton
This month, Professor Anthony Brookes, professor of genetics and genome biology at the University of Leicester, said: ‘We should be worried about the completely unknown and unknowable long-term risks of vaccination of the young.’
And professor David Livermore, a medical microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, said he expected vaccines to be approved for children in the UK but warned it posed an ethical dilemma.
He said: ‘Children gain very little from the vaccination but may run some small hazard to harm.’
Giving children coronavirus vaccines is morally complicated, and UK health chiefs have already said it would only be done if it was deemed necessary.
Advocates of the move argue it would help protect older people by allowing Britain to move one step closer to ‘herd immunity’, curbing the spread of the virus.
They also warn that while the immediate harms of Covid seem small to children, the dangers of ‘long Covid’ on them are still somewhat unknown.
But critics say offering jabs to children would be unethical because it would only be done to protect older people — not youngsters themselves.
WHY ARE PEOPLE WORRIED ABOUT VACCINES?
One reason some people are fearful of having a vaccine is the risk of side effects.
Side effects are normal because the vaccines trigger the immune system, which is how they work, and the immune system is usually what causes symptoms of illness.
Things like fever, aches, headache and tiredness are all normal signs that the immune system is reacting to something and are often caused jabs but are not serious. They tend to clear up by themselves within days, and can be controlled with drugs like paracetamol and ibuprofen.
A tiny proportion of people suffer more severe side effects, such as going into shock or having a severe allergic reaction, but this is extremely rare and usually only happens in people with a history of bad reactions.
Everybody who receives a jab on the NHS is monitored for at least 15 minutes to make sure they don’t have a bad reaction, and vaccination teams have treatments on hand to help if this happens.
Part of the reason for young women being concerned is understood to be myths about the vaccine affecting fertility or the health of unborn babies.
Although vaccines are not recommended for pregnant women, this is only because they have not been trialled on them specifically – the same reason children are not eligible for the jabs.
There is no evidence to suggest the vaccine would be capable of harming an unborn child – and certainly not any more than the real coronavirus – but it is not being given to pregnant women out of caution.
And on long-term effects on fertility, Professor Van-Tam said no vaccine has ever led to infertility and there was no reason the Covid ones would do so.
ONLINE CONSPIRACY THEORIES
Online conspiracy theories also claim that jabs have tracking microchips in them, contain animal products or use cells from human flesh – none of which are true.
Experts have called for spreading lies about vaccines online to be criminalised, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it ‘total nonsense’.
Just 57 people under the age of 20 in England have died with Covid since March 2 last year, but teenagers are thought to be just as likely to spread the virus as adults.
Cambridge University academics believe the risk of infants dying of the coronavirus is around 0.00088 per cent — or one in every 125,000. By contrast, the risk is thought to be around 15 per cent in the over-75s.
There is nothing to suggest the Pfizer vaccine will not be safe in children but some have branded it controversial because studies are still ongoing.
There is more doubt about the AstraZeneca vaccine which has been linked to extremely rare blood clots in young adults.
Britons under 40 are being offered an alternative to the British-made vaccine as a result, although this has only been possible because of how many other jabs the UK has ordered.
Across the Atlantic, there are also concerns over whether the project is just to protect adults, when only 0.1 per cent of US Covid fatalities have been in people under 18.
Klaus Okkenhaug, professor of immunology in the Department of Pathology at the University of Cambridge, said the Pfizer vaccine could be a potential candidate to use on children due to its safety record.
Appearing on Times Radio, he conceded it was a ‘fair point’ when it was put to him that one or two ‘bad cases’ of vaccine side-effects could ‘spook’ a large number of people.
Prof Okkenhaug said: ‘I think the lower in age we go, the lower the risk from the virus is, then the more risk-averse we become with relation to the vaccine.’
He highlighted that, with data from the tens of millions of people who have been vaccinated, ‘if you go for children, you would want to go for the safest vaccine’.
‘And I think probably an argument could be that for children you go for the Pfizer, if that pans out, as it looks to be, (to) have an even better safety record.’
Prof Okkenhaug said the decision on whether to give children jabs is a ‘difficult question’ which requires balancing wider benefits against the direct ones for children.
‘I think for a whole population it would of course help for children to be vaccinated because it also reduces their opportunities to transmit this virus to their teachers,’ he said.
Prof Okkenhaug added that when considering the ‘direct benefits to the children’ it is ‘a little bit of a fine balance because they are so unlikely to be affected by the virus’.
‘But I think, given the phenomenal safety records of some of the vaccines out there, there’s a good argument for going ahead at least with older children, say 12 and above.’
Prof Okkenhaug said the idea of using a nasal spray to administer the Covid vaccine to children was ‘really interesting’, with the approach used before for flu vaccines, but there was a current lack of data.
Earlier this month Professor Adam Finn, a paediatrician at the University of Bristol and member of No10’s vaccine advisory panel the JCVI, said: ‘It is important we have confirmation of the safety and adequacy of immune responses of Covid vaccines in children – particularly because there are some children who are at enhanced risk of serious illness because they have underlying health conditions that render them more vulnerable.
‘However, most children who get SARS CoV2 infection do not get seriously and, indeed, most don’t get sick at all.
‘Although the importance of children in transmission of the virus within the community is not entirely clear, the evidence we have suggests that it is not great, especially where younger children of pre-school and primary school age are concerned.
‘Accordingly immunising children is a low priority and if vaccine-induced protection in the adult population is high from high uptake, good persistence of protection and sustained protection against viral strains as they evolve to evade immunity, then it may not be necessary to immunise children in a general way at all.
‘This is even more likely for young children than adolescents.’
He added: ‘At this point in the pandemic, when there are global shortages of vaccines and very large numbers of people at high risk of severe disease – mostly elderly – worldwide who remain unimmunised – a priority for them but also for us – is to prevent large epidemic waves like the one currently playing out in India.
‘Those outbreaks pose a global threat as they drive evolution of vaccine-resistant variants and their dissemination around the world.
‘So, for now we should make sure that the doses of vaccines that exist are used as strategically as possible – and giving them to children is unlikely to be the priority, at least for now.’
England’s R rate – the number of people infected by each coronavirus case – has risen back above one meaning the national outbreak is probably increasing in size again, which was expected to happen as lockdown rules are lifted
This month, the Food and Drug Administration in the US, expanded its vaccine rollout by authorising the jab for 12 to 15-year-olds.
Speaking on the move acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said: ‘The FDA’s expansion of the emergency use authorisation for the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine to include adolescents 12 through 15 years of age is a significant step in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Today’s action allows for a younger population to be protected from Covid-19, bringing us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy and to ending the pandemic.
‘Parents and guardians can rest assured that the agency undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data, as we have with all of our Covid vaccine emergency use authorisations.’
The European Medicines Agency also gave the green light for the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine to be used in those 12 and above this month.
Head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy at the EMA, Marco Cavaleri, explained that it would be up to individual countries to decide if they wanted to vaccinate children.
He told the Financial Times: ‘It is up to them to decide whether they want to restrict the use just in adolescents who are at higher risk of Covid-19 because of comorbidities or other factors, versus using this vaccine in a broader population.’
Yesterday, Britain recorded more than 4,000 daily Covid cases for the first time since the start of April, amid mounting fears the rapid spread of the Indian variant will scupper ‘Freedom Day’ next month.
Department of Health bosses posted another 4,182 positive tests, up by almost half on last Friday’s count.
Meanwhile figures also showed a total of 24,478,052 in the UK had now received both doses of the Covid vaccine.
UK regulator FINALLY approves Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose Covid vaccine – but it won’t be available until later this year
Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose Covid vaccine has finally been authorised for use by the UK medicines regulator – but it won’t be available until later this year.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which polices the safety of drugs, today gave the jab the green light, three months after it was first submitted for approval.
No10’s vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi hailed the jab as another ‘another weapon in our arsenal to beat the pandemic’.
Trials have shown the vaccine – which US regulators approved in February – to be 67 per cent effective at blocking Covid symptoms. Other studies have shown it is even better at preventing patients falling severely ill.
Ministers originally hoped to give the jab to younger adults, with the promise of just one jab thought to appeal to twenty-somethings desperate to return to some degree of normality.
However, the vaccine works in a similar way to AstraZeneca’s and has been linked to blood clots. Belgium yesterday stopped offering the J&J jab to under-40s following the death of a woman who was given it.
Britain has ordered 20million doses but these are not expected to start arriving until mid-summer at the earliest.
Ireland, where the jab has been dished out for several weeks, has warned of ‘serious concerns’ about supply. It is thought most of the supply in EU is made in Germany.
J&J has yet to brag that its vaccine works against the Indian variant, which is growing quickly in Britain. But experts are confident it should still beat the mutant strain, with other jabs known to still be effective.
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