NHS trusts in England have been told to prepare for the possible rollout of the vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds, according to a BBC report. The Telegraph also said trusts are being told they must have plans ready by 4pm on Friday, with possible vaccinations for children scheduled from September 6.
However, the Department of Health and Social Care has insisted no decisions have yet been made to extend the vaccine programme to younger people, but said it will instead “continue to plan for a range of scenarios”.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has also not yet advised on broadening the rollout further.0
The reports come as a small-scale study led by doctors at Bristol Royal Hospital for Children found 12- to 15-year-olds with underlying health conditions – who’ve already had the jab – had “mild to moderate” side effects, which cleared up quickly in almost all cases.
Ahead of any official announcement on the jabs, here’s what we know so far.
Which children can currently get the vaccine?
Covid vaccines are already available for all children aged 16 and over across the UK. Children aged 12-15 who have an underlying medical condition that makes them more vulnerable to Covid can also access the vaccine, as can children who live with an adult who’s considered extremely vulnerable.
NHS England said more than half a million 16 and 17-year-olds have had their first dose, with efforts continuing to encourage teenagers to get a jab, including revellers at the Reading and Leeds festivals this weekend being offered a vaccine dose at pop-up clinics set up across the two sites.
Why are younger children now being considered?
There’s talk of the vaccine programme being extended to include all over 12s – and it has a lot to do with schools.
Schools in Scotland have already returned from the summer holidays and Scotland’s deputy first minister, John Swinney, has said the start of term has contributed to a rise in cases in the country.
Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, is among those supporting the age group extension for this reason.
Asked about 12- to 15-year-olds being offered jabs, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Either you’re going to be exposed to Covid without any protection or you can be exposed and have a vaccine. And we should be offering teens that vaccine so they have that protection before going back into schools.”
She added: “It’s an emergency situation and we have Delta, which is so infectious. I mean, it’s just flying through schools as we know.
“But not just here, Germany, Denmark, even places like New Zealand and Australia are struggling with Delta compared to the original virus.”
Are the vaccines safe for younger kids?
Although we’ve yet to offer the vaccine to most children aged 12-15 in the UK, the vaccine is widely available to over 12s across Europe.
“The big question regarding vaccinating youngsters has been whether the benefits outweigh the risks,” Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology from the University of Warwick previously said.
“Increasing data from the US where nearly 9 million 12 to 17-year-olds have been vaccinated and the extension of vaccines to teenagers in Canada and France has provide reassurance that the Pfizer vaccine is safe with serious side effects being very rare.”
Dr Peter English, a retired consultant in communicable disease control, added: “The UK medicines regulator approved the vaccines from the of 12 years in early June, and other countries, such as the USA and Canada, have been offering the vaccine routinely to children aged 12+ for some time now, so we have an abundance of safety data for this age group.”
Do kids get side effects from the vaccine?
Just like adults, kids might get side effects from the jab. But the evidence so far suggests these side effects will usually be mild and pass quickly.
A study of vulnerable children aged 12-15 who’ve already had the jab found that vaccine side effects are “likely to be mild to moderate and clear up quickly” in this group.
Although the study numbers are small, the researchers said they hoped the data, which is published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, should offer reassurance to parents and clinicians.
What do kids think?
According to a survey of 10 to 17-year-olds in the UK by the the Children’s Society, 62% of children said they want to get a Covid jab, while 11% said they would not want to. The rest are unsure, so we can expect to see more public health campaigns soon if the rollout is extended.