Covid vaccination plans for 12 to 15 year olds across the UK are due to be announced by the government this week, with a mass vaccination program starting in schools within two weeks, the Observer has been said.
New proposals for a Covid recall program are also expected to be presented on Tuesday, but ministers are believed to be moving away from Covid passport plans in confined environments such as nightclubs amid opposition from some Tory MPs .
It is believed that vaccinations for children will begin on September 22. NHS leaders were reportedly made aware of the plans after schools were asked to be ready to introduce the program. The move follows the conclusion of a review by the chief medical officers of health (CMOs) of the four countries, led by Chris Whitty.
When asked to confirm the plan, a source from the Department of Health said ministers have not received final notices from CMOs and do not want to prejudge them.
Last week, the Joint Committee on Immunization and Immunization (JCVI) said children would receive only marginal health benefits from a mass vaccination campaign, but failed to consider the benefits potential for children’s education. Some Conservative MPs had said they would oppose vaccination of children without definitive medical and scientific evidence in its favor and without the go-ahead from the CMOs. Sources said tonight that the government may oppose the idea of vaccine passports, although Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said last week they were moving forward. Vaccine passports are expected to be introduced in Scotland next month.
Ministers will likely confirm that the booster shots can be applied to doubly vaccinated adults alongside a mass promotional campaign. They were awaiting advice from JCVI, who in turn awaited a study from the University of Southampton to report on the safety of a third jab.
Jonathan Ashworth, the Shadow Secretary of Health, said: “With increasing hospital admissions and high levels of circulating viruses, we need to take immunization further. Any decision to prick children rightly rests with medical experts and we anticipate the CMO will outline next steps imminently. The NHS is under intense pressure, so ministers must ensure if the green light is given this week that the infrastructure, including primary care and health visitors, is in place to rapidly deploy these vital next steps vaccination. “
Meanwhile, clinical trials are underway for next-generation vaccines that could protect against the variants. A version of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine intended to protect both the beta variant and the original Wuhan strain is being tested, and first results are expected in the fall, possibly as early as next month. The government says the best analysis shows that the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine is 96% effective and the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine is 92% effective in preventing hospitalization after two doses.
Ministers confirmed last week that immunocompromised people will be offered a third primary dose. This is separate from the booster program, as those who need a third primary dose did not have sufficient protection against two doses.
Write in the Observer, Gabriel Scally, visiting professor of public health at the University of Bristol and a member of the independent scientific group Sage, criticizes the government for its ‘inappropriate’ public messages and for failing to introduce anti-Covid measures such as better ventilation and better quality masks.
“The government and its senior officials say Covid should be viewed as similar to the flu and that we have to ‘learn to live with it’. This lingering and imperfect disturbing approach ignores the dangerous and evolving nature of the virus, ”he wrote. Buildings need to be altered to improve ventilation, he says, and the public should be encouraged to wear properly designed masks that can protect them and others.
“Too often the messages were aimed at shifting responsibility to individuals. Pointing out people who are obese, reluctant to get vaccinated, or unlucky enough to have serious underlying conditions and telling them to be “careful” does not replace what has always been lacking – an effective strategy to catch the virus under control . “
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said he believed the big outbreaks of Covid were likely over. “A substantial proportion of unvaccinated people have already contracted the infection and are as protected as if they had received a double injection and probably even better protected against serious illness,” he said. “So we are probably very close to endemic equilibrium. You can see this by looking at the current geographic distribution of cases. The local communities with the highest impact tend to be those that have escaped relatively little until recently.
“While I can’t be sure, I don’t expect there to be a big increase in the number of cases due to the return from schools or the start of the semester at universities in a few weeks. “
But he said he was nervous about the growing number of people hospitalized and the possibility of a flu epidemic during the winter. “Most epidemiologists like me think we’re going to have a bad year because we haven’t seen a lot of flu in over 18 months and therefore immunity will be low.” This could put substantial pressure on the NHS, and getting sick with the flu and Covid at the same time could double the risk of death, he added.
Linda Bauld, a behavior specialist at the University of Edinburgh, said there were signs of infections stabilizing but the new school year in England could see an increase, as happened in Scotland.