Healthy children aged 12 to 15 should be offered one dose of a Covid vaccine, the UK’s chief medical officers say.
In a letter to ministers the four CMOs said it would help reduce disruption to education.
The move means around three million children across the UK could be eligible for the jab, which is expected to be given through schools, amid ongoing concerns about a rise in cases following the summer holidays.
It comes after the government’s vaccine committee said there was not enough benefit to warrant it on health grounds alone – but they said ministers could take into account other factors.
In the letter they said closures of schools was unlikely, but disruption to face-to-face education was likely given people who test positive have to isolate for 10 days.
It will now be up to ministers whether to accept the recommendation of the four CMOs and if they agree, children will be offered the Pfizer jab.
It is likely to be given in schools and parental consent will not be needed if the child is considered competent to give consent themselves.
The CMOs warned missing face-to-face school had a “massive impact” on children, both physically, emotional and in terms of their life chances and added that is was not possible to quantify to what extent vaccination would help reduce this. But they said “on balance” the benefits in reducing disruption and the harm it caused provided “sufficient extra advantage” to warrant extending vaccination to healthy children in this age group.
They said poorer children had been hit hardest by the pandemic and could gain the most from vaccination.
Children with health conditions and those living with clinically vulnerable people have already been told they can get the vaccine.
The CMOs have asked for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to look at whether second doses should be given to those aged 12 to 15 once more data comes through internationally.
Welcoming the advice from the Chief Medical Officer regarding the vaccination of all 12-15 year olds, Koulla Yiasouma, NI Commissioner for Children and Young People, said: “I welcome today’s announcement that 12-15 year olds should be offered one dose of the Pfizer vaccine. The CMO and the Department of Health must now clearly communicate specifically to these young people and their families and set out the reasons behind this decision, how it builds upon the ‘marginal advantage’ of giving the vaccine to this age group, as communicated by JCVI, and provide the information they need to make a fully informed decision about taking up the vaccine.
“There should also be opportunities for children to have their questions answered in a way they can understand.
“The vaccine is already available for children aged 12 – 15 years old with underlying health conditions and has been welcomed by those children and their families as they have enabled them to return to educational and social activities where they would have had to otherwise shield.
“I have been assured by the CMO that the decision to recommend extending the offer of the vaccine to all children between the ages of 12- 15 considers the wider impact of the Pandemic on children’s rights, including their right to an education and the best physical and mental health.
“The priority should now be communicating these benefits and any risks, in a clear and timely way.”