Covid jab rollout for 12 to 15-year-olds to start in schools in England

All children aged 12 to 15 in England will be offered one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid jab, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi has said.

Invitations for the jab will begin next week, the government said, and parental consent will be sought for the schools-based vaccination programme.

It follows advice from the UK’s chief medical officers, who say the jab will help reduce disruption to education.

A rollout is yet to be confirmed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

On Monday evening, Mr Zahawi told the Commons: “We know vaccinations are our best defence against this virus. Our jabs have already prevented over 112,000 deaths, more than 143,000 hospitalisations and over 24 million infections.

“They have built a vast wall of defence for the British people.”

He added: “The MHRA is the best medical regulator in the world…they have concluded they [the vaccines] are safe for 12 to 15-year-olds.”

Across the UK, 12 to 15-year-olds with underlying conditions are already being offered the jab.

“Our outstanding NHS stands ready to move forward with rolling out the vaccine to this group with the same sense of urgency we’ve had at every point in our vaccination programme.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said he accepted the recommendation from the officers aimed at protecting young people from catching Covid, reducing transmission in schools and keeping pupils in the classroom.

“Our outstanding NHS stands ready to move forward with rolling out the vaccine to this group with the same sense of urgency we’ve had at every point in our vaccination programme,” he said.

Parents will be asked to give consent for the jab. But if a child and parent are of opposing views and the child is considered competent to decide, the child will have the final say.

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The UK government’s vaccine committee said there was not enough benefit to warrant jabs for this age group on health grounds alone – but they said ministers could take into account other factors.

The CMOs concluded this tipped the balance, given the virus was going to keep spreading during winter.

They said this would continue to cause disruption to face-to-face education, given the policy in all parts of the UK of asking people who test positive to isolate for 10 days.

Earlier, Prof Chris Whitty, the lead CMO for the UK, said it was a “difficult decision” and should not be seen as a “silver bullet”.

But he said it could be an “important and useful tool” in reducing school disruption in the coming months and when combined with the marginal health benefit identified by the vaccination committee, it meant offering a Covid vaccine to all children was appropriate.

Only the direct benefits to children in this age group were considered in the review, rather than the wider impact to society.

Children with health conditions and those living with clinically vulnerable people have already been told they can have the vaccine – and are being offered two doses.

This accounts for around one in eight of the three million children in this age group.

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