The NHS has been asked to prepare to vaccinate 16 to 17 year olds “as soon as possible,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Wednesday.
It comes after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) published its recommendation to offer one dose of Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to everyone in the age group.
Official data from early July indicated that about 40 percent of students in England had antibodies. Public Health England said the one dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine “should act as a ‘booster’ to their immunity.”
The JCVI said it will update its recommendation before the second doses are due at approximately 12 weeks after the first dose.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is currently the only CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus vaccine that is authorised for use on children over 12 years old.
The JCVI has previously recommended offering two doses of the vaccines to children over 12 years old who are at higher risks of getting severe symptoms from COVID-19 and who live with an immunosuppressed person.
In a statement published on Wednesday, JCVI said that it considers the potential benefits of getting the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine “continue[s] to outweigh potential harms” for adults.
But when it comes to healthy children, “there is more uncertainty in the precision of the harm-benefit balance when considering the impacts on children and young people themselves,” the JCVI said, adding that older children are more likely to benefit from vaccination than younger children.
On July 19, the JCVI has said it held the view that the “minimal health benefits of offering universal COVID-19 vaccination to children do not outweigh the potential risks” at the time, but would keep new data under review.
It said on Wednesday that the UK Chief Medical Officers had asked it to accelerate its planned review “in view of the progress in offering COVID-19 vaccination to all adults and recent changes to the epidemiology of COVID-19 in the UK.”
The JCVI said its advice is based on the main focus that the decision should benefit children and young people themselves rather than indirectly benefiting others, and with the understanding that the UK public values the safety of the vaccines more than their potential benefits.
In consideration of the safety of the vaccine, the JCVI said the adverse reactions after vaccination in the 12 to 17 age group are generally mild, self-limiting, and short-lived, typically lasting 1 to 2 days.
As for the reports of myocarditis [inflammation of the heart muscle] and pericarditis [inflammation of the membrane around the heart] after receiving Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, the JCVI cited U.S. official data on adults, suggesting these reactions are extremely rare, occur more frequently shortly after the second dose, and are of a “milder phenotype” with most people recovering quickly. The cause of these adverse reactions is currently unknown, and medium and long-term safety data of the vaccines are not currently available.
According to official data, fewer than 30 children have died because of COVID-19 in the UK as of March this year, corresponding to a mortality rate of two deaths per million.
The JCVI said that current clinical data suggests Pfizer/BioNTech is 100 percent efficient against COVID-19, but the trial was too small to assess the efficacy against severe COVID-19 in 12 to 15 year olds.
Among the 449 cases of Paediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome following COVID-19 infection between March and July 2020, 44 percent were in intensive care and 1.1 percent died. The JCVI said the epidemiology and underlying cause of the syndrome are largely unknown, and there is no real-world estimate of vaccine effectiveness.
The JCVI also took into consideration the “mental health and education impacts of COVID-19 on children and young people,” which are mostly caused by government intervention methods to control the spread of the virus.
“The extent to which vaccination may mitigate the mental health and educational impacts of COVID-19 on children and young people is difficult to quantify,” the JCVI said.
Two models on what impact vaccinating children and young people could have on hospitalisations and deaths in older adults were also considered, but the JCVI concluded that such benefits are “highly uncertain.”
The JCVI also considered the disruption a school-based vaccination programme could bring to education, but alternative treatments or prevention against COVID-19 were not mentioned in the statement.