During a press conference on 4 August, JCVI chair Professor Wei Shen Lim said that ‘greater certainty of data’ had led to the change in advice, with the benefits of a vaccine outweighing the risks.
Professor Lim said that hospitals were seeing more cases of children with ‘quite severe’ COVID in hospitals, resulting in some being put on ventilators. He stressed that the benefits of the vaccine were typically greater for older children.
The JCVI said it would offer further advice on whether 16 and 17-year-olds should receive the second dose of the vaccine at a later date when more data is available. However, Public Health England (PHE) has suggested it could be from 12 weeks.
The JCVI considered some serious side effects that had been reported in this younger age group, including myocarditis and pericarditis. But these were found to be ‘extremely rare and usually occur within a few days of the second dose’.
Child COVID jabs
Young people aged 16 and 17 will not have to obtain parental consent to get vaccinated, and will be given the Pfizer jab – the only vaccination to be authorised by the MHRA for use in teenagers in the UK.
Professor Lim added that the JCVI was unchanged on its advice to vaccinate 12-to-15-year-olds, but encouraged those in this age group who have underlying health conditions, or are in close contact with an immunosuppressed person, to come forward.
Health secretary Sajid Javid has accepted the JVCI’s recommendation and has asked the NHS to prepare to vaccinate those who are eligible ‘as soon as possible’. Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van Tam has said he expects 16-17-year-olds to be inoculated within the timeframe of a school term.
Professor Lim said: ‘A particular point to remember throughout all of this is that there’s a very string influence of age on the risks associated with COVID. We know this for adults, we know that older adults are at higher risk than younger adults.
‘It is also true for children and young people. And therefore, a 16-year-old child would be at higher risk than a 13-year-old child, for instance, that means in general terms, the benefits of vaccination are typically greater for older children compared to younger children, and that point needs to be borne in mind.
‘We would like to advise that the first vaccine dose is offered now to all 16 and 17 year olds who are otherwise healthy, with the aim of a second vaccine dose to be offered some time later. We will provide another update of advice regarding the exact details of the second dose.’
Professor Lim explained that the JCVI were expecting ‘more data to accumulate over the coming weeks’ and would allow them to offer the ‘most relevant data’.
In a statement published by PHE, it said that in the last few weeks there had been large changes in the way COVID-19 has been spreading in the UK, particularly in younger age groups.
It said that the updated JCVI advice would mean that it could be confident that young people will be afforded around 80% protection against hospitalisation, following receipt of their first dose – and could be even higher in children.
Mr Javid said: ‘Today’s advice from the independent JCVI means more young people aged 16 and over can benefit from COVID-19 vaccines. I have accepted their expert recommendations and I have asked the NHS to prepare to vaccinate those elegible as soon as possible.
‘The JCVI have not recommended vaccinating under-16s without underlying health conditions but will keep its position under review based on the latest data.
‘Those aged 12 to 15 with severe neuro-disabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities, as well as people in this age group who are household contacts of individuals who are immunosuppressed, are already eligible for vaccination.’