Britain decided on Monday to offer COVID-19 vaccines to children 12 and older, as the government bet that expanded vaccination and small changes in social behavior can avoid the need for winter lockdown.
Vaccinations for children and booster shots for at-risk adults are part of a ‘toolkit’ to control COVID-19 infections this fall and winter that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce on Tuesday at a press conference.
On Monday, the chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland recommended that children between the ages of 12 and 15 receive a single dose of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine, although the advisers government vaccine officials said this month that this step would have marginal health benefits.
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the government accepted the recommendation and would start vaccinations next week.
Other countries – including the United States, Canada, France and Italy – are already offering coronavirus vaccines to children 12 and older, but Britain has resisted. It is currently inoculating people 16 years and older, nearly 90% of eligible people have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Earlier this month, the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization said vaccines should be given to children aged 12 to 15 with underlying health conditions. But he did not support a deployment to healthy children, who are at low risk of serious illness from the virus, saying the direct health benefits were marginal.
However, he said there might be broader societal factors to consider, such as education or children acting as sources of transmission to more vulnerable groups.
Chief medical officers of health said on Monday that the vaccination would help limit transmission of the virus in schools and help children’s mental health by reducing disruption to education.
England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said immunizing children was “an important and potentially useful additional tool” in the fight against the virus.
But he said it had not been an “obvious decision at the barn door” and that it was appropriate “for people to take longer to get there and make sure we all weighed. the different elements to get it right “.
Children will initially receive a single dose of vaccine in their schools. The UK has yet to decide to give them a second dose.
100 deaths per day
Johnson’s Conservative government is hoping that widespread vaccinations, rather than restrictions, will help control COVID-19 infections during the colder months, when respiratory viruses spread more easily.
The announcement of a new virus roadmap comes a year after Johnson resisted scientific advice to quarantine the country – only to turn around in weeks as infections skyrocketed.
Cases of the virus are now 10 times more numerous than a year ago, but vaccines protect many Britons against serious illness. Yet the UK records more than 100 coronavirus deaths per day and more than 8,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19. It’s less than a quarter of the winter peak, but the numbers are increasing.
Johnson is expected to say mask wear, advice on working from home and social distancing rules that were lifted in July could return if cases increase further.
But his Tory government is resisting tougher measures, unexpectedly dropping a plan to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs and other crowded places.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Sunday that the vaccines, which were introduced in many European countries and were due to start in England at the end of September, were “a huge intrusion into people’s lives”. He said the government would keep the plan “in reserve” but not implement it just yet.
Some experts have argued for vaccine passports as a way to encourage young people to get vaccinated, although others say mandating vaccination, rather than encouraging it, could increase hesitation. The measure has been challenged as a heavy tax by many in the entertainment industry and has met political resistance on the grounds of civil liberties from some conservative lawmakers and opposition Liberal Democrats.
The government’s decision on the vaccination passport applies in England. Scotland, which sets its own health policy, plans to introduce the crowded place requirement next month.
Johnson is also likely to announce on Tuesday that the government will relinquish some of the emergency powers Parliament granted him after the pandemic began last year, including the power to shut down businesses and schools, restrict gatherings and detain infectious people.